The German Comment Landscape

Online comment sections revolutionised the participatory discourse as enabled by news media, limiting the hurdles to participate and speeding up the process from submission to publication. What was initially meant to strengthen public debates and democracy turned out to suffer from abusive use: Be it insulting journalists, posting misinformation, or pure hate. While many publishers and journalists are eager to create an engaged audience, user-generated content typically does not create direct revenues. However, keeping the abuse at bay is often obligatory from an ethical and legal perspective and can be costly. Germany has been highly affected by abuse in combination with strict regulation, leading to the shutdown of many comment sections. While reports in 2014 indicated closure rates of 50% and more, a structured overview of the situation in 2020/21 is missing. We conducted a structured assessment of 114 German newspaper websites containing all major outlets to account for this. Our analyses indicate that the deteriorating trend regarding the availability of comment sections slowed down in Germany. However, there are still open issues such as a high number of outlets using post-moderation and limited audience participation options. This provides a reference to researchers and practitioners working on (semi-) automated moderation systems regarding the expectable market and problem size.

Disinformation in Open Online Media