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Science

New German site aims to monetize online 'trolls'

The Internet is filled with commentators who clog websites and message boards with nasty postings. These 'trolls' may be worth money to German startup hatr.org, which aims to monetize anonymous diatribes.

Sebastien Vollnhals

Vollnhals' site sells ads next to offensive online comments

Friday marks the final day of the three-day German Internet and blogging conference, Re:publica, held in Berlin. The event, now in its fourth year, is a venue for the German-speaking Internet community to meet, share ideas and collaborate on new projects.

One of the conference's attendees was Sebastien Vollnhals, a Leipzig-based developer and one of the founders of Hatr.org, a new German site that collects hateful and disrespectful online comments, posts them on a blog, and sells Google Ads against those comments. Hatr.org launched earlier this month.

Deutsche Welle: So what's the concept behind Hatr?

Sebastien Vollnhals: It a copy of an American project, called Monetizing the Hate. The idea behind it is that we're collecting comments of Internet hatred from trolls and we monetize it by planting ads right beneath the comments.

So if I have a blog how would I use Hatr?

You would request an invite and we will review the website and if we think this fits into our concept. Then we'll send you an API key. Then with this API key and a WordPress blog plugin you can submit blog comments right from your blog.

So I click a button and it sends to you, and then what happens?

Then we review this particular comment and then we will eventually publish it.

What are some kinds of comments that you get?

Hatr screenshot

Hatr wants to donate money to feminist charities

Lots of verbal harassment. Just trolling in general. People are commenting not for taking part in a discussion, not for the discourse, but just to lead the discussion to a point of nowhere.

So you publish these comments and then sell Google ads against that?

Yes. And we're planning to crowdsource who to donate it to. We're thinking of some cool feminist or some gender projects with the money we make.

So what's the motivation behind doing this?

The [usual] approach to trolls is just ignoring them. Just don't talk to them. This is a bit frustrating, because the people running the blogs they're getting the comments and they're reading it. They won't publish it, but they're reading it anyway. Moving these comments to Hatr gives them a good feeling, gives them a way out, rather than always getting new hate mail and new harassment. That's one point where Hatr can help.

I was noticing that all of your comments are in German. Are you going to expand to other languages as well?

We haven't planned that yet. We're very much focused on Germany. We have our roots in the feminist community in Germany and it would be hard to internationalize our particular platform. It's a good thing to think about, how to internationalize the idea. If a project from another country or from a region with another language wants to copy the project, we will gladly help.

I know you're still pretty new, but you've already published some comments.

Yeah. One part of them were some feminist blogs were looking into their spam archives and submitting some things. I think they made a ‘best of' troll comments. We've gotten 300 or 400 comments so far. There's still some in the queue. We don't just get comments from feminist blogs, even though a very big part of them is from feminist blogs, because so many of them do get a lot of hatred and harassment comments than other blogs.

Now that you've become a curator of hatred on the Internet, do you notice a common theme?

Yeah, there are people that are just harassing people and calling names. And there are some more subtle themes. I don't yet see a pattern. But we have a person who wants to data mine it and analyze it for a pattern.

So a human actually reviews the comments that you post?

Yes, of course. We are purging real names and getting rid of the context so the harassment doesn't hit the people it's supposed to hit.

Interview: Cyrus Farivar
Editor: Nathan Witkop

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