Hiding hate speech: political moderation on Facebook

Facebook facilitates more extensive dialogue between citizens and politicians. However, communicating via Facebook has also put pressure on political actors to administrate and moderate online debates in order to deal with uncivil comments. Based on a platform analysis of Facebook’s comment moderation functions and interviews with eight political parties’ communication advisors, this study explored how political actors conduct comment moderation. The findings indicate that these actors acknowledge being responsible for moderating debates. Since turning off the comment section is impossible in Facebook, moderators can choose to delete or hide comments, and these arbiters tend to use the latter in order to avoid an escalation of conflicts. The hide function makes comments invisible to participants in the comment section, but the hidden texts remain visible to those who made the comment and their network. Thus, the users are unaware of being moderated. In this paper, we argue that hiding problematic speech without the users’ awareness has serious ramifications for public debates, and we examine the ethical challenges associated with the lack of transparency in comment sections and the way moderation is conducted in Facebook.

Tags: comment moderation, Facebook, incivility, online comments, political parties, Social Media