From healthy communities to toxic debates: Disqus’ changing ideas about comment moderation. (2022)
This article examines how the commenting platform Disqus changed the way it speaks about commenting and moderation over time. To examine this evolving self-presentation, the Internet Archive Wayback Machine was used to analyse the company’s website and blog between 2007 and 2021. By combining interpretative close-reading approaches with computerised distant-reading procedures, it examined how Disqus tried to advance online discussion and dealt with moderation over time. It was found that in the mid-2000s, commenting systems were supposed to help filter and surface valuable contributions to public discourse, while ten years later their focus had shifted to the proclaimed goal of protecting public discourse from contamination with potentially harmful (“toxic”) communication. To achieve this, the company developed new tools and features to facilitate and semiautomate this active and interventive form of moderation. This rise of platform interventionism was fostered by a turn towards semantics of urgency in the company’s language to legitimise its actions.
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Johannes Paßmann, Anne Helmond, Robert Jansma (2022): From healthy communities to toxic debates: Disqus’ changing ideas about comment moderation. Working Paper SFB 1472, no. 3.