Media mogul Hans H. Luik: Anonymous comments fell victim to capitalism

Hans H Luik in the Vikerraadio studios.
Hans H Luik in the Vikerraadio studios. Source: Kadri Põlendik/ERR

The owner of one of Estonia's two major private media groups says that the standard of anonymous online comments on media sites began to fall, as editorial staff at such publications started to optimize costs and move towards a simpler common denominator.

Speaking on ERR radio show Vikerhommik Tuesday morning, Hans H. Luik, owner of Ekspress Grupp, added that whereas recent analysis of comments on online news portal Delfi, part of the Ekspress Grupp, suggested that attempts had been made to take over the narrative, all while masquerading as the voice of the people, when he was comments editor in the early days, the level of commenting and comment moderation was higher.

"Later on, Delfi's comments section fell victim to capitalism - cost optimization and a move towards a simpler, common denominator began. The collective brain lasted as long as exacting moderation persisted," Luik said.

Luik said that strict moderation causes different opinions stand out, while at the same time disconnecting the fighters and turning off the " serial bombers".

However, now the situation is very different, he said, implying that the changes may be on the horizon.

"Currently, commentary has become a mass phenomenon that is required, but it is also under question. Questions about commenting get asked all the time, and will be asked at the next Ekspress Meedia board meeting," he said.

Luik also disagreed with technology entrepreneur and investor Allan Martinson, who said that facilitating anonymous comments on Delfi 20 years ago had been a mistake.

Allowing an anonymous comment ecosystem was not a mistake, Luik said, but rather an experiment.

"It was forced by a hankering for anonymity. Let the people talk among themselves on the new platform. The masses began to interact with themselves. It was new and exciting," he recalled of the early days of Delfi comments.

"As an individual, as Hans Luik, I can say that I don't need those comments. I know why Lasnamäe district votes for the Centre Party or southern and western Estonia now for EKRE. But if we also look at US or British internet pages, when people in the capital can't read comments there, then they won't know why Brexit happened or why Trump won."

According to Luik, there are currently around 20,000 commenters in Estonian and Russian on Delfi, between them authoring around 320,000 comments per month.

Moderation does happen still – around 15 percent of Russian language comments, and 7 percent of Estonian language comments, require deleting, Luik said.

Analysis in spring covered close to one million comments, which Luik said also interested him as to what proportion were written in the neighboring Russian Federation.

"We were wondering if a large neighboring country would be involved in the 'coal supply to the furnace'. And it turned out that it was not very involved. However, we discovered some 'serial bombers' who seemed to be working on that, including bots. One Kadi M., who was able to post 80 comments a day, was one of these," he continued.

Luik also said that the analysis revealed how people try to take over the narrative under the guise of some sort of national voice, though this was nothing new, he said, recalling an earlier time where some of the most destructive comments of all were authored on Centre Party city government computers, as well as, surprisingly, those at the customs board (the forerunner to the present-day Tax and Customs Board, or MTA).

"But then Madis Jürgen carried out an experiment of looking at a city government house which was very revealing. When the deputy mayor Kalle Klandorf (Centre) went out for dinner, the number of comments stopped. [Former city government official] Priit Kutser, when he got caught out, said, that part of his job was to write about 1,500 bad comments in a month,"Luik recalled.

Luik also noted that anonymous comments cannot be given equal weight in terms of seriousness, with edited text.

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The original Vikerraadio segment (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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