23 Jul 2010 6:35 am   //   Filed under: Failure, Media, Technology

Is Yahoo News proud of its comments feature?

“It’s as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots.”
Gene Weingarten, writing about web comments in the Washington Post.

* * * *

Yahoo News is one of the most popular news web sites in the world. It has a problem, though. Every major story comes with a generous helping of the most vile hate speech you’ve ever seen.

Earlier this year, Yahoo News restored its long-mothballed comments feature. The given explanation was that Yahoo’s readers demanded a platform to interact with the news. A Yahoo exec told PaidContent.org: “[T]the feedback from the audience was that the right to comment was sort of an extension of their First Amendment rights.” User engagement is also good for business, since time on site is one metric Internet companies use to set ad rates.

I’m a fan of interaction and free discourse, but let’s face it: Comments on news stories are about the lamest form of user engagement on the Internet. On the some of the more popular sites, comments are a festering cesspool of pure mean. The nastiness comes from two sources. The first is trolls: Creative geeks who make a hobby out of posting the most offensive messages they can think of, to get a rise out of people. The second is true bigots, some of whom post creepy threats of violence. I have a bad feeling that a lot of the people posting comments on Yahoo are not goofing around. This a thriving community of actual racists!

Compared to its peers—AOL, USA TodayThe New York Times, CNN, MSNBC—Yahoo comments are spectacularly bad, and they show up in your face, at the bottom of every story. Anyone reading the news, including children curious about the world they live in, will certainly see them.

How bad are we talking about? I’ve collected a few choice comments from Yahoo News over the last few days. Read on. Warning: Rough language ahead.

* * * *


Story: Wisconsin candidate can’t use controversial description

Comment: Texas_Dave: blacks….the bodies of humans…the minds of animals.


Story: Checks are coming: Obama signs unemployment bill

Comment: Joeg: Too many colored people in office !


Story: Man with neo-Nazi ties leading patrols in AZ

Comment: AlwaysRight: If it wasn’t for white people… blacks and browns would still be poking bugs with sharp pointy sticks in thier loin cloths.


Story: Clinton off to Afghanistan as war fears rise

Comment: Zorro: Moslems live to kill each other,but they prefer to kill non-muslims, that’s why Pakistan and Afghanistan will never cooperate with the West.We should not intervene and let those animals exterminate each other.


Story: Judge hears arguments over Arizona immigration law

Comment: DISTURBED: I HAVE AN IDEA: WE ERECT A HUGE CATTLE FUNNEL IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FENCE WITH A SIGN READING: FREE LEGAL U.S. ENTRY 3 DAYS ONLY! OUR OBAMA ADMINISTRATION WILL LEAD THE WAY! AND ON OUR SIDE BY THE OPENING YOU SET ME UP IN A TOWER- WITH FLOODLIGHTS, MY CHAINGUN, AND 5 MILLION ROUNDS! OH AND LOUDSPEAKERS WITH THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER CRANKED 24/7 ! I THINK AFTER THE FIRST DAY THEY’LL GET THE POINT- YOU’RE NOT WELCOME !


Story: Sherrod gets biggest ‘I’m sorry’ — from Obama

Comment: Bigfoot: She is an ugly racist B_itch, hang her and hang her high


Story: African Union troops harming Somali civilians

Comment: BeRevealer: This is an example of how black people run their country. Not one country with black leadership is without violence on a large scale and poverty of the masses but not the leadership. Could be coming to a city near you the way things are heading in the USA!!


Story: 8 suspects killed in clash with Mexican soldiers

Comment: Burney D: Solution to Border problem, kill all the men and breed all the women, soon they’ll all be white.


* * * *

Whew. Welcome back from the worst place in the universe.

But please don’t form your opinion from my sampling alone. Go to Yahoo News, pick any story, and read the comments yourself. As I write this, the story about Obama apologizing to Sherrod has 29,000 comments. The one about unemployment benefits has 44,000.

Yahoo has some filters, including a peer voting system that’s supposed to hide offensive comments. None of the comments above was blocked when I found it. But some are. If you spend any time on Yahoo News, you’ll notice that comments denouncing the hate or affirming a liberal point of view are often slammed with Yahoo’s “thumbs down” button until they are hidden from view. This comment was blocked: “Right-wing corporate media (FOX) loves to lie to the stupit & racist people they will belive anything.” And so was this one: “We need to ban guns from the continent to stop the violence.”

Meanwhile, this comment on the immigration story has 16 thumbs-up and zero thumbs-down:

Get these free-loading, worthless, loud-mouthed pieces of $*!! out of our country. Can't they take a hint. Leave, or we'll thow your worthless a$e$ out of our country. Any questions???

By now, you’re probably feeling angry. Here’s what I’d like you to do with that feeling. Go about your business and remember that one day you might bump into someone who works for Yahoo News. I want you to make that person a hero. When you see them, ask them:

  • Are you proud of the Yahoo News comments feature?
  • Are your managers proud of the comments feature? Do they even know about it?
  • Do millions of pages of hate speech make Yahoo a better company and the world a better place?
  • Wouldn’t it feel awesome to be the person who solves this problem?