Conversations about crosswords and cricket were respectful

The Guardian took a look at comments on the Guardian, and found what we all knew.

New research into our own comment threads provides the first quantitative evidence for what female journalists have long suspected: that articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men, regardless of what the article is about.

Although the majority of our regular opinion writers are white men, we found that those who experienced the highest levels of abuse and dismissive trolling were not. The 10 regular writers who got the most abuse were eight women (four white and four non-white) and two black men. Two of the women and one of the men were gay. And of the eight women in the “top 10”, one was Muslim and one Jewish.

And the 10 regular writers who got the least abuse? All men.

Imagine my complete lack of surprise.

We also found that some subjects attracted more abusive or disruptive comments than others. Conversations about crosswords, cricket, horse racing and jazz were respectful; discussions about the Israel/Palestine conflict were not. Articles about feminism attracted very high levels of blocked comments. And so did rape.

Again – I could not be less surprised.

Mind you, it used to surprise me that feminism was so very unpopular at the Guardian, but it doesn’t any more.

At its most extreme, online abuse takes the form of threats to kill, rape or maim. Thankfully, such abuse was extremely rare on the Guardian – and when it did appear it was immediately blocked and the commenter banned.

Less extreme “author abuse” – demeaning and insulting speech targeted at the writer of the article or another comment – is much more common on all online news sites, and it formed a significant proportion of the comments that were blocked on the Guardian site, too.

Here are some examples: a female journalist reports on a demonstration outside an abortion clinic, and a reader responds, “You are so ugly that if you got pregnant I would drive you to the abortion clinic myself”; a British Muslim writes about her experiences of Islamophobia and is told to “marry an ISIS fighter and then see how you like that!”; a black correspondent is called “a racist who hates white people” when he reports the news that another black American has been shot by the police.

Familiar to anyone who has spent 15 minutes reading comments online.

“Dismissive trolling” was blocked too – comments such as “Calm down, dear”, which mocked or otherwise dismissed the author or other readers rather than engaged with the piece itself.

Is that kind of thing said to men much? Especially white men? I don’t think so.

Oh calm down, dear.

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