Cotera leads new study exposing the limits to free speech in UK newspaper comments

Cotera has published a new study highlighting free speech limits in the comment sections of British newspapers.

Cotera, an AI sentiment analysis company, has exposed the free speech limits in British newspaper comment sections by analysing what gets readers secretly banned. Led by Cotera, the study reveals the extent of moderation efforts and sheds light on the main topics that are likely to get readers banned. Involving leading newspapers on both sides of the political spectrum, the research identifies commonly-used moderation practices.

The study found that people who comment on controversial topics, including immigration, Covid-19, progressive and gender issues, and those who criticise political figures are most likely to be ‘shadow-banned.’ This means being secretly blocked or restricted from newspaper comment sections.

User and comment control in British newspapers

The Cotera team analysed over 20,000 comments by shadow-banned usernames across three prominent UK newspapers. Comments were analysed from more than 200,000 articles published between 2010 and 2024. They used their innovative AI classifier to identify trends across the comments.

Study lead and co-founder of Cotera Ibby Syed said, “Shadow banning is a way to secretly stop readers from being heard on comment sections of websites. When someone is shadow banned, they can still post comments, but no one else will be able to see what they wrote. The person who is shadow banned doesn't know they have been banned. The idea is that if they don't get any responses to their comments, they will eventually get bored and stop commenting. The ban happens without telling the user about it.”

The team used their natural language processing technology to define three categories for shadow-banned user comments: right-leaning, left-leaning and neutral. The study shows that 45% of comments were right-leaning, 39% were left-leaning and 13% were neutral. The disparity raises important questions about the fairness and objectivity of comment moderation practices. 

In addition, the team analysed 13,000 comments, which were flagged by other readers. Of these comments, 73% were right-leaning and 10% were left-leaning. 

Cotera’s study, which was undertaken using their cutting-edge sentiment analysis tool, revealed interesting information about the topics that are most likely to result in shadow-banning. Criticism of conservatism and Boris Johnson, UK economic policy and Brexit were the most prevalent banned topics in the left-leaning category. Liberal criticism, discontent about wokeness, criticism of the EU, support for Brexit, Covid-19 and immigration were the most common issues banned within the right-leaning category. The range of issues demonstrates the breadth of political discourse that is subject to online content moderation. 

Cotera co-founder Ibby Syed commented, “AI and big data has made it possible to uncover many interesting things about business operations that can help businesses in both strategic and day-to-day practical ways. We are keen to support organisations who deal with large communities, user comments or feedback who wish to understand more about their audience and how to best serve or delight them.”

About Cotera

Cotera is a company that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help businesses understand what their customers are saying. They make software that can analyse, sort, and group large amounts of customer feedback and online reviews. Specialising in delivering solutions to develop strong customer relationships and boost client retention, Cotera has a team of experienced engineers and data scientists. This latest project demonstrates the versatility of AI tools, providing a detailed analysis of newspaper content moderation practices and revealing the most common topics discussed by shadow-banned users. 

Anyone who wishes to learn more about Cotera is encouraged to make use of the following contact details:

Contact Info:
Name: Michael Roberts
Email: Send Email
Organization: Cotera
Phone: 07407 305144

Release ID: 89132075

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