Posted by Daily Quail
November 2nd, 2009
In my last post I looked at the effect controversial comments under articles on MailOnline might have on the brands advertised next to them. A number of advertisers had expressed concerns that unmoderated comments on the newspaper’s website might lead to issues with ads appearing alongside offensive comments. O2’s head of online marketing commented:
There’s always the risk with user content that our brand advertising may appear next to a comment we may not agree with or like. In the Mail Online example, we would want to understand the controls the media owner is giving to users of the forum so inappropriate content can be reported. If we’re satisfied with the processes then it’s likely we would consider advertising.
Currently the majority of comment sections on MailOnline remain at least partially moderated, yet, somehow, inappropriate content still seems to be slipping through. But have things improved since the last time we looked at the issue, when a torrent of xenophobic messages were left underneath a story about Asda stocking Asian inspired clothing? To find out, let’s look at today’s article about a man who died of asphyxiation after being trapped in a cramped and airless HGV compartment (thanks to Five Chinese Crackers for highlighting this).
Bear in mind that all comments appearing under this story have been pre-moderated (i.e., checked in advance by a MailOnline employee to ensure nothing ‘defamatory, malicious, threatening, false, misleading, offensive, abusive, discriminatory, harassing, blasphemous or racist‘ gets through) . The article was published at some point before 6.30 PM, at which time these 13 comments were publicly visible. At the time of writing (11.30 PM), the following comments were the highest rated:
If these are the highest rated, and thus most visible, comments, how does that reflect upon the “controls” and “processes” used by MailOnline to prevent “inappropriate content” appearing? Other comments not shown above include:
I down, How many millions to go????
1 down and quite a few to go yet.
One less for us to worry about,
Is there a theme emerging? Yes, I think there is. This one sums it up:
One less to support for life.
while this one is more concerned about the cost of disposing of the fellow human being’s body
No doubt this country will be liable for disposing of his corpse.Dead and still costing us cash!
Even death is not enough to placate this pleasant chap’s distaste for asylum seekers.
Now seems like a good time to remind ourselves again that all of these comments ‘have been moderated in advance‘. Someone at Northcliffe House looked at the above comments and decided, ‘Yes, these are fine. Not just dismissing, or ignoring, or joking about, but celebrating the death of another human being is just fine with us. There is no conceivable way our readers and advertisers would find these comments defamatory, malicious, threatening, false, misleading, offensive, abusive, discriminatory, harassing, blasphemous or racist. They are perfectly suitable for publication.’
This also seems like an appropriate point to remember what the MD of planning and buying agency Diffiniti said before:
Advertisers need to be sure they’re in a suitable environment.
Currently, M&S, Channel 4, uSwitch, Zanussi, Kingsmill, Kaleidoscope, Barclays, Anglian Home Improvements, Axa PPP, American Express, Aviva, Job Centre Plus, Weight Watchers, O2, BMW, DFS, Virgin Media, Radisson Blu, Oral B, Kodak, Sainsburys, and RAC, all have display advertisments served to the page on which the above comments are hosted. Their brands appear alongside not just one comment reacting with glee to the death of an asylum seeker, but thirteen. In over five hours not a single comment has been published pointing out the tragedy of the case. The closest we get to sympathy is ‘Shame but I would be a hypocrit [sic] if I said I was sorry!’.
It seems unlikely, however, that not a single reader has not expressed any shred of humanity in reaction to the story. Not all Mail readers are cold-blooded bigots. Some would surely have left comments expressing horror at the miserable circumstances of the man’s death, sorrow for his passing, and shock at fellow commenters heartless remarks. So where are these comments? If thirteen frankly contemptable responses are waved through unedited, I cannot understand where the rest might have gone and how MailOnline can operate such lax controls on its own website. It almost seems as if, not only is “inappropriate content” appearing quite freely, but appropriate content is being suppressed. Whether this is because of technical or editorial reasons is unclear.
I am left wondering how many of the companies listed above, if they were aware of the lack of control MailOnline appears to have over its own readers, would be comfortable with their brand appearing alongside commenters celebrating the death of a man from asphyxiation? Would anyone regard that as a “suitable environment”?