Citing comments which “debased” and “cheapened” the discussion, the political news magazine National Journal announced today that they were shutting down the public comment scscinesection for the indefinite future:
Some sites have responded by devoting substantial time and effort to monitoring and editing comments, but we’d rather put our resources into the journalism that brings readers to National Journal in the first place. So, today we’ll join the growing number of sites that are choosing to forgo public comments on most stories.
We think there are better ways to foster the dialogue we all want. We’re going to start by leaving the comment sections open and visible to National Journal‘s members, a group that’s highly unlikely to live by Godwin’s Law.
By only allowing members to leave a comment, the NJ is in effect pursuing a “real name” policy similar to that of Facebook. Given that this site covers an inherently divisive topic, I’m not sure that’s going to help. (It also doesn’t help that the sign up process appears to be broken). But this will tend to discourage the more casual troll, so it is better than nothing.
News sites have tried various solutions to the comment troll problem, including signing up for comment management services like Disquis, turning to Facebook comments, or shutting down the comment section entirely.
Just last month the Chicago Sun-Times turned off their comments section. Pointing out that “a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story”, Popular Science did the same in September 2013.
And then there are sites which sidestepped the problem entirely. Quartz, for example, enabled readers to leave inline annotations rather than comments, and Vox, a news “explainer” site, launched last month with no comment section at all.
Perhaps the most famous attempt at curbing online trolls was in South Korea, which started requiring commenters to use their real name in 2007. This was scrapped in 2011 because it was deemed largely ineffective at curbing trolls.
At this point there doesn’t seem to be a one size fits all solution, and the effort to encourage civil online discourse continues.
image by Genista