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The Chicago Sun-Times Shuts Down Their Comment Section

It’s widely 6039415545_bd1bcd8f08accepted 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 this weekend. "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.

Talking New Media

image by Cali4beach

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Valentine April 14, 2014 um 7:39 pm

Trolls will always be there, numbers show that.
But removing anonymity is bad for everyone. When you use your real name, you’re forced to censor yourself. Not just curse words and regular trolling, but actually limit your comments to something that isn’t offensive to anyone, something that won’t get you fired from your job, stared at in church or embarrassed by friends.
So … you lie, by omission or with many little white lies.

Bart Anderson April 15, 2014 um 1:43 am

I’m all in favor of moderating comments and requiring people to have accounts. Otherwise the bullies and personality problems take over.

The good news is that once you set a tone, people know what to expect and the trolls stay away.

It’s a good idea for us all to learn to speak with civility and responsibility.

Greg Strandberg April 15, 2014 um 11:40 am

Silly idea. I read my local paper online, and paid $50 for the subscription, primarily so I can see what local voters are thinking in the commenting section. Often there’s better information than in the actual article (our paper is laying off like crazy).

Copyblogger did this a couple months back – I thought it was a bad idea then and I still do. At least they moved their discussion to Google+ so people still have the option.

I can’t help but think many institutions and organizations doing this will eventually backtrack. Like you said, there are other options, and this is just a failure of leadership and a triumph of laziness.

mike April 15, 2014 um 2:50 pm

Their sports writers love to author trollish articles, but have thin skin when called out for it. I’m sure that’s at least somewhat related.

Other sections definitely had their share of legitimate hate speech and racism, though. A quick perusal of the Chicago Tribune’s Facebook-driven comments will tell you that lack of anonymity only helps so much. Some people are shameless.

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Dan June 2, 2014 um 5:18 am

This is all part of the elites' plan to shut out the truth. Most of those "trolls" were simply people that were telling the truth, and the elites don’t like that. They’d much rather spoon feed you the news, let it sink in, brainwash you, and shape your thoughts. They certainly don’t want free thinkers/truth-tellers who voice their opinion on the current REAL conditions/situation in regards to race, politics, etc. Unfortunately this mass media censorship will continue, website by website, unless people do something about it. They are literally looking for very way possible to censor the media as the truth gets out more, and more. This is the start.

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