Newspaper takes stand against 'comment trolls'

Jun 22, 2010 by Chris Lefkow
A woman reads the online version of the New York Times on January 2010. Amid a growing debate among US newspaper editors over the practice of allowing anonymous comments, one New York publication is taking a stand.

They lurk in the comments sections of websites, firing off inflammatory messages behind a cloak of anonymity.

"Comment trolls," as they're called, are the scourge of many a news site or blog seeking to make their comments section a forum for intelligent discussion.

Amid a growing debate among US over the practice of allowing anonymous comments, one New York publication is taking a stand.

The Buffalo News announced on Monday that it will begin requiring identification from people who want to leave comments on its website, BuffaloNews.com.

"We will require commenters to give their real names and the names of their towns, which will appear with their comments, just as they do in printed 'letters to the editor,'" Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan said.

Websites have employed a variety of methods to deal with "trolling" -- from banning comments altogether to deploying which screens out posts containing profanity.

Some websites, including The , have comments vetted by human editors or moderators before allowing them to be posted online.

Others require users to supply an email address before being allowed to comment or rely on readers to flag inappropriate comments so they can be removed.

With a weekday circulation of more than 162,000 and a Sunday circulation of over 244,000, the Buffalo News is believed to be among the first major US newspapers to require that a comment carry a real name.

Sullivan, in a column explaining the move, said the decision to require identification was taken "after quite a bit of internal discussion" and would begin in August.

"Online commenting began, a year or so ago, as a way to engage our Web readers and give them a chance to air their points of view and get some discussion going on the topics of the day," Sullivan said.

"Quickly, though, the practice degenerated into something significantly less lofty," she said. "Reader comments can be racist and ugly."

Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of journalism at Boston's Northeastern University, said the Buffalo News may be the first of many news sites to crack down on anonymity.

"I think we're going through a period where a lot of people are starting to rethink anonymous comments," Kennedy told AFP. "A lot of people are thinking about this and talking about this."

Rem Rieder, editor of the American Journalism Review, welcomed the move by the Buffalo News, which coincided with a column he wrote in the latest edition of the magazine calling for an end to anonymous comments.

"The opportunity to launch brutal assaults from the safety of a computer without attaching a name does wonders for the bravery levels of the angry," Rieder said.

He pointed out that while the websites themselves are generally immune from prosecution, a number of news outlets have encountered legal problems because of allegedly defamatory comments posted by anonymous users.

"Continuing to allow anonymous sniping hardly seems to be in the self-interest of news outlets," Rieder said. "There's just no defense for a system that allows anyone to post this kind of stuff anonymously."

The Buffalo News announcement drew a mixed reaction in the comments section on its website with some readers welcoming the move and others denouncing it.

"Yeah! It's about time some changes were made," wrote a user identified only as "itsme." "All the little trolls and bullies can go away now."

Others felt the new rules would drastically reduce participation.

"I don't like the idea of using my real name on sites such as this because there are a lot of loonies out there," said "Justathought26."

"There goes free speech and honest criticism," added a user with the handle "tommyd."

"The online version of the News, just like the paper version will soon die and go away."

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User comments : 12

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gunslingor1
Jun 22, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Aloken
4 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2010
A 'report abuse' button on each comment should be enough. Page a mod and he/she deletes it, reoccurences get automatically flagged and maybe auto-banned. Requires less manpower and time than individually reading and approving each comment while not requiring people to actually register/sign in.
spacester
1 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2010
I see a need for better moderation in a time of high unemployment.

Isn't the solution obvious?

Hire people to keep a lid on it.

The anonymous thing is a red herring: the problem is that trolls get away with it. Software ain't gonna get it done or it would have by now.

Put a human in the loop and pay for performance and hey presto comment sections suddenly grow up.
Egnite
not rated yet Jun 23, 2010
It's amazing how sacrificing certain rights (e.g. privacy and freedom of speech) to corporations will ensure you don't get offended by trolls! Democracy at it's finest lmfao
JJC
not rated yet Jun 23, 2010
"Hire people to keep a lid on it."

Yeah because newspapers are just rolling in money these days.
Javinator
5 / 5 (1) Jun 23, 2010
It's not like you're really sacrificing any rights. The ability to comment anonymously on a newspaper's website is a privilege granted by the owners of the website. If they want to take away that privilege because it's being abused it's their choice.

Free speech didnt go anywhere. Feel free to start your own anonymous commenting website if you want.
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Jun 25, 2010
a 'report abuse' button on each comment should be enough.
Many comment trolls are just abusing "report abuse" feature.
This tongue sounds quite familiar to Alizee chasers.
COCO
not rated yet Jun 30, 2010
maybe if the main stream papers spent this effort on truth like the WMD - 911 questions and the foolishness of religion clowns like me could take a brake from enhancing their neocon lives.
Jigga
1 / 5 (1) Jun 30, 2010
Before some time I proposed quite simple system based on personal profile filters: in such system it's just you, who will decide, which users or posts will remain hidden before your eyes in the same way, like in your private e-mail.

The usage of personal filters can be stored at server and offered to people as a default spam-blocking profile - but no reader will be actually prohibited from reading of posts of other readers, if he will not agree with it.

Why the simplest ideas are considered just at the very end?
marjon
not rated yet Jun 30, 2010
a 'report abuse' button on each comment should be enough.
Many comment trolls are just abusing "report abuse" feature.

The definition of 'abuse' depends upon the whim of editors.
Jigga
not rated yet Jun 30, 2010
Laws of statistics could define such abuse well.

Why do you mean, most of my posts were labeled negative by the same accounts: frajo and yyz?

Such bias is actually quite improbable between thousands of physorg readers. After all, most of yours posts were labeled by yyz negatively too. It's not so difficult to recognize abuse patterns and/or various coalitions between users - the physorg voting system is well equipped for it.

http://www.physor...activity
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Jul 01, 2010
Why do you mean, most of my posts were labeled negative by the same accounts: frajo and yyz?
marjon is always marjon.
You, alizee, create two new accounts per day. This is "quite improbable". So what's the reason for your account-hopping?
frajo
1 / 5 (2) Jul 01, 2010
Two new accounts per day? This is nonsense.
It's a metaphor and you didn't answer my valid question.
VestaR
Jul 01, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.