It’s widely accepted that the anonymity of the internet can turn almost anyone into a troll, and nowhere is this more true than in the comment section. This unfortunate trend has led a number of sites to respond by either removing any aspect of anonymity or taking a more extreme step of killing their comment section entirely.
The Chicago Sun-Times is the latest media organization to take the latter path; they announced over the weekend that the comments were going to be temporarily disabled.
“The world of Internet commenting offers a marvelous opportunity for discussion and the exchange of ideas,” wrote managing editor Craig M. Newman. “But as anyone who has ever ventured into a comment thread can attest, these forums too often turn into a morass of negativity, racism, hate speech and general trollish behaviors that detract from the content.”
The Sun-Times will be launching a new comment section which they hope will “not only allow for free discussion, but encourage increased quality of the commentary and help us better police the worst elements of these threads”.
This paper is not the first to to try to fix online comments, nor will they be the last. Many sites have adopted comment management platforms like Disqus as a way of managing the troll problem, but that solution comes with its own problems. Other sites require that commenters create accounts, but when the bar is set that high it tends to discourage casual commenters. Some sites that use Disqus share this problem; those sites require an account in order to comment, which usually discourages me from leaving a comment (instead I go to Twitter).
TechCrunch stands as an example of a site that went from anonymous comments to Facebook comments as a way to reduce the presence of trolls, and it worked for them. But they might be the exception.
South Korea first started requiring internet commenters use their real names in 2007. The rule initially only applied to sites with more than 300,000 users, but was later tightened to sites with more than 100,000 users.
The rule was scrapped in 2011 because it was deemed largely ineffective at curbing trolls:
The system has been ineffective in preventing people from posting abusive messages or spreading false rumors. According to a study by the KCC, malicious comments accounted for 13.9 percent of all messages posted on Internet threads in 2007 but decreased only 0.9 percentage points in 2008, a year after the regulation went into force.
Another reason to scrap the rule is that it potentially discriminates against domestic companies. Internet users simply post malicious comments on Facebook, Twitter or other international websites, where the rule does not apply.
image by Cali4beach