Comment System Shenanigans: Not Long with My NYT Commentary | Censorship on Blog#42

Dear Readers


I blogged about my peculiar issues with posting comments in the New York Times a few weeks back. Those problems haven’t been resolved even though I’ve been in frequent contact with the community manager about them.

This isn’t really about the loss of “special status” as much as it is payback for something none of us who had a green check mark next to our names ever asked for. Removing the verified status was the democratic thing to do. I still wholeheartedly agree with that decision.

The problem is that, in the name of fairness, the Times has gone the other way. There is nothing fair about the way comments are processed. I’ve been collecting data from my experience posting since the change and I’ve made the following findings:

  • All of my posts go to moderation, even though 30% of comments are supposed to be auto-moderated.
  • About a third of my posts never get published.
  • For each post that gets published immediately and gets hundreds of recommendations, the next 12 to 18 get delayed by 18 hours or more, unless I complain to the community manager.
  • Replies, with or without links, also always get moderated.
  • A comment was removed on April 8 and reinstated when I filed a complaint. No explanation was given. I’ve been informed prior removals were due to moderator error.

I was told early on that approval for my posts is delayed because I post comments that include links. I debunked that notion within the first couple of weeks. I’ve also been informed that some of the words I use (buzzwords in their database) and foreign words cause my comments to go into a queue. I took the time to find comments that use the same suspicious words and, lo and behold, some of those buzzwords can be found in the first 100 chronological comments of many of the articles I looked at.

All of my comments are delayed, with or without links and with or without buzzwords. I’ve looked through hundreds of comments and found some, like this one, that contain many links, including ones created with TinyUrl to save character space. I always only post one link per comment.

I’ve registered several complaints over the last few weeks and nothing has changed. I tried posting a comment to Michelle Goldberg’s April 8th op-ed when just under 200 comments had already been published. Today, when I informed the community manager that my comment had been sitting in a trap since 9pm EST the night before and since then 1800 other comments had been processed, she had nothing to say about that particular problem. But she did address a comment I posted on a NYT Politics interview with Bernie Sanders, informing me that mine was among 30 comments waiting to be approved. I’d already told the community manager that I am pretty much done with this nonsense, she reiterated to me that nothing untoward was happening.

“Rima, I can see your comment. It’s sitting in a queue with about 30 other comments. It simply hasn’t been moderated, yet. There are hundreds and hundreds of comments pending across our news and opinion stories. A small fraction of the comments get auto-moderated, the rest have to wait for a human. We would never segregate or suppress your comments. We all know and love your comments and want you contributing!

I’m sorry, but I don’t know what else to say.”

Less than an hour later, I received notification from the Times that my comment was published.

As you can see, there is nothing egregious in my comment. There are no foreign words to trip up the automated system. So, I did what I usually do… I clicked the permalink provided in the notification, and…

Is it chance that my comment on Sanders announcing the release of ten years of taxes and admitting he earned a couple of million dollars from his book is magically unavailable from the instant it was approved?

While this comment was approved, it was unavailable from the time of approval and remains that way at the time of writing.  By the way, what you see in the screenshot is the same message one gets when one’s comment is removed.

One of my comments from the day before was mysteriously removed and reinstated after I emailed to complain. My guess is that whoever moderated my comment either both approved and then removed the Sanders comment, or there is something hinkey going on with my profile in the Times database. Either way,  it is clear that the community manager doesn’t see anything wrong.

There are commenters who seem to be able to comment at will. FunkyIrishman, for example, is one such commenter who is able to post many times when comments first open.

I’ve tried and tried to get the Community Manager to at least look into the possibility that there is something strange about the way my comments and those of many other former verified commenters are handled. I’ve been in touch with a few and they all report experiencing the same problems I’ve described. They’ve also all been in touch with the same person and, to a person, the very same excuses have been deployed in answer to our accusations that we are being purposely suppressed. I don’t come to this conclusion lightly. I’ve spent hours making sure I could replicate the issues I complain about.

Had the Times cared about fairness, then a rule would be applied so comments are moderated in the order they are submitted. They aren’t, in spite of complaints many of us have made. There is absolutely no reason why someone, anyone, who posts a comment within the first three minutes of the comment section opening should have their comment approved the next day. This is what happens to most of my comments.

The data I’ve collected brings me to the conclusion that it isn’t links or buzzwords that are the problem, but the political bent of the content and the prospect that it might garner too many reader recommendations. There are many things I might have tolerated as a reader. Censorship from a newspaper is not one of those things.

I subscribed to the Times years ago as I became dissatisfied with my hometown paper and wasn’t interested in subscribing to my local paper. At the end of this month my subscription to the New York Times will run out.

I will not be renewing.

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5 thoughts on “Comment System Shenanigans: Not Long with My NYT Commentary | Censorship on Blog#42”

  1. This has been happening to me for the past year. Yours is the first publication I’ve seen on the subject. NYT comments seem to be heavily curated to reproduce their preferred political point of view.

    The Times has become a rag anyway, so no great loss. I hope you’ve found suitable supplements for your media diet.

  2. Hi Rima! Thank you for posting this, this pretty much confirms my experience with the NYTimes. (note I have a surprise at the end for you)

    I am a professional interaction designer and software developer so I understand a lot of the technical interworking of comment systems and content sites. Still, I have concluded that NYTimes moderation is politically biased. I concluded this years before your blog post here.

    I could see a few reasons why comments are omitted or delayed. The personnel could be short staffed or poorly managed or trained which would lead to a lot of “errors” and inconsistency. But as you pointed out, if you compare YOUR comments with others, it’s strange how they got published, and you did not. Honestly I don’t know why Socrates’ gets published given the content he writes. If — I — write anything close to what he does, I won’t get published.

    It’s a bias.

    Anyway, here’s my surprise. Now, for some reason they publish my comments even though I stopped subscribing. I defeat the paywall with ‘inspect elements’ (google this to learn how). It’s ironic that I seem to get more comments published now that I’m in clear violation of their policies, than when I was paying $$$ every month.

    Anyway, the Washington Post is different, at least comments are more honest.

  3. It seems to me that the NYT chooses comments which are effusive in their praise of the article to publish first. The first published comments are almost always the reader picks because they are on the page the longest, so they will necessarily get recommended the most. It’s a way for the NYT to put the positive reviews up front. It’s highly anecdotal, but I’ve noticed that 100% of my comments in praise of an article or supporting the author’s or NYT’s general viewpoint get published. Very few, maybe 10%, of my comments critical of the article or opposing the author’s/NYT’s perspective ever get published. So, if you want a comment posted right away, perhaps start off with “thank you for this article.” I’d be shocked if there isn’t an algorithm that allows those comments to bypass moderators.

  4. There’s something fishy for sure. Due to the current time difference, our comments (a group effort with partner and sister) are made hours and hours before other readers yet hardly ever show up. I believe that the moderators are supporting their own and in many cases the NY Times’ position on Israel’s war on Palestinians. I am a whisker away from ending my decade+ subscription.

  5. Thank you Rima so much for taking the time to document this. There’s no question the comment section is effectively fake or heavily curated. I’ve probably commented 15 times over a number of years, with a little under half the posts probably reflecting some sort of criticism. I think every criticism besides one was rejected, in all manner of styles. Recently I tried posting the same thing basically three times (different days) on a The Daily podcast page on “The Alito’s and their Flags” episode. The post was literally one line and a direct audio quote, which was three words, from the first minutes of the program quoting a resident. I said in total: “On the next episode of, ‘things progressives were formerly too reasonable to care about'” (with) Preview: “oh the horror!” (a quote from the show) added for amusement. This mild snark and criticism was simply too much. I rephrased once more directly saying simply: “When did the left start fetishizing flags?” and that too got rejected. Anyway, yeah I’d realized they’d been doing this for some time. The third and last time I told the moderator through the comment, I was cancelling my subscription if they censored me again. It’s pathetic, shameful behavior for an organization supposedly trying to ‘inform’ discourse.

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