Comment on this!

I’ve been meaning to write about comments for a little while. Today, I got the extra bits of inspiration I needed to finally put fingers to keyboard.

The main push for me to write about comments is the Edmonton Journal‘s un-moderated free-for-all comment system. It’s great that they are trying to get people to register, but that doesn’t seem to be taking off.

So, I wanted to highlight a couple of truly outrageous comments, especially on fairly mundane stories, to help show those big bosses that something needs to be done.

As if all the “This comment was removed for being absolutely the stupidest/angriest/most racist thing,” wasn’t proof enough. My original inspiration also comes from people smarter and funnier than me.

Today’s extra pushes came from a neat look at Gawker’s comment system, which is more community-moderated, keeping the first-timers and one-timers (usually the angriest people) from getting much play and distracting the conversation.

The other was waiting 2+ hours for my comment to appear on an iNews880 blog. Ugh. Just don’t even bother. It’s the web and if my comment isn’t going up anytime soon I’m not even part of a real-time conversation and that’s what the Internet is supposed to help provide. If I wanted to opine and wait to see it appear I’d just write a letter to the editor.

Now…onto what this is supposed to be all about…

Edmonton vigil for Polish plane crash victims

anonymous

10:32 AM on April 13, 2010

Hyphenated Canadians are dragging this country down.

Name withheld

10:34 AM on April 12, 2010

This comment has been removed because it contains material which was deemed inappropriate.

- There were actually quite a few “inappropriate” comments. No respect for the dead I guess.

The Journal is Edmonton’s largest and most popular news source (That’s not really up for debate.), so it stands to reckon their comment section should be a big ole online water cooler – but they’ve basically got an anonymous comment system. While they’ve begun to ask people to register, that’s doesn’t really seem to be happening. So, really angry, hate-filled people are saying what they really think. Well, great. I suppose it’s sort of nice reminder about the price of democracy, but the Journal (or any other newsroom/website) doesn’t have to put up with that.

Now, over here at the edmontonian, we have neither the volume of readers, nor the amount of comments to deal with that the Journal does. This makes it easy for us to approve someone the first time they comment (which is required), since, generally speaking,  angry, dumb people tend to say things that are angry and dumb right out of the gate. So far, once approved, nobody here has crossed the line.

We’ve sent a few “don’t talk like” that e-mails to first-timers, trust me. And then we never hear from the troll again. That’s what I hope for my friends at the Journal: a forced registration/held for moderation system that allows them an e-mail/URL/IP address to block stupid people.

Mandel shows support for downtown arena, LRT and Expo 2017

anonymous

4:46 PM on April 13, 2010

Who taught these rednecks how to use the internet… Go back to your double-wides.

anonymous

4:40 PM on April 13, 2010

Bunch of old people in this section who can’t see the big picture. Maybe we should build more nursing homes for you old farts instead.

- Play nice.

The super-angry people with loads of time might get another e-mail address or block their IP, but if the whole system was being moderated in some capacity the Journal’s online staffers could spend a few minutes zipping those people cease and desist style e-mails instead of having to read every. single. comment. because one (or many more) might contain hate speech or libelous accusations.

I don’t think letting people come to my site or your site and say whatever they want is a part of free speech. It’s the Internet, after all, and they can go ahead and get their own hatetank blog for that. The Journal, and hopefully all newsy websites (even this little one), should be trying to raise the level of conversation and keep discussion on track.

Now…what do you think about commenting? I open up this comment section to you, and all of your intelligent, thoughtful, hilarious insights.  Keep the hate-speech for the Journal.

Slave Lake’s Jim Thunder made his voice heard

anonymous

5:07 PM on April 13, 2010

mmmmm whiskey

14 Responses to “Comment on this!”

  1. bingofuel says:

    More and more, this has become a really important discussion. It would seem that there’s a glut of mouthbreathers drooling on themselves to be the first person to say something truly shocking. And they do it under the cloak of anonymity — which is fine with me, so long as those people can be held to account by webmasters and moderators.

    I think the Gawker model will become the benchmark. Registered commenters who say rational things will be given more room to speak their minds, while the unregistered conspiracy-theory and vitriol-spouting dopes will be pushed aside in favour of real conversation.

    IMAGINE THAT. :)

  2. Jeff says:

    I think we’re starting to see some of the big news guys get the idea that it can’t be a free-for-all.

    Over at CBC they don’t even allow comments on crime stories, due to people naming the accused or youth or victims (when they can’t legally be named), and there’s been unfounded accusations, so they just shut that down.

    I think it’s just going to be up to everyone who has high comment traffic to figure out how to moderate it in a way that brings up the level of debate. Crazies really don’t deserve to use your soapbox.

    Now…I’m off to leave horribly racist comments on your blog.

  3. Trevor says:

    Look at the digg.com and the Slashdot.com systems. You make a decent comment you get voted up, you troll and you get voted down. Community moderation at it’s best.

  4. Stu says:

    Mandel is not getting my vote – No tax dollars for the fatcat Edmontonian!

    Oh yeah…The Gawker model is pretty much the best. Insightful comments, plus the freedom for fart jokes on the deadspin page.

    Plus I love the first comment on this story.
    http://gawker.com/5484892/the-real-reason-we-hate-wal+mart
    The vitrol in the last sentence of the first post makes me happy for some reason.

  5. JillPR says:

    I have an open comment policy on my blog – just because I didn’t want to be chained to the computer to approve new commenters. It works for me because I don’t exactly get hate mail. But I rarely read news comments because there’s usually a bunch of sheer ignorance and hate there. It just makes me hate humanity.

    It *especially* gets me when there’s a sexual assault story and all the comments are like “omg she was wearing a short skirt/went somewhere after 11pm/looked at him funny so she totally deserved it.” I think I would go to the next level and say that the news org has an obligation to block that kind of crap on their site; it’s pure hatred. But it doesn’t get deleted because in many cases there’s nothing about it in their TOS (which is usually about racism and personal attack.) So that harmful, nasty BS stays out there, and it’s way worse than dumb trolls saying “lol ur stupid”.

  6. Dustin McNichol says:

    This is a great article, Jeff. I have been thinking about this sort of thing for a while now. Is there something about these internet forums that allow people to be so mean and uncivil to each other? Maybe they wouldn’t say the same if they were talking face-to-face or over the phone.

    The problem is that, sooner or later, we will have some crazies start saying it’s their “freedom of speech” to say ANYTHING–no matter how crazy or hateful it is.

  7. Jeff says:

    Stu, I have no problem with vitriol or f-bombs, and that guy is even kind of clever in his hipster anger. That would be fine with this guy here, or at the Journal. Trust me, I like the f word.\

    Jill, we also don’t sit around and wait for comments (Sometimes we actually have real work to do, I know, shocking to hear from all our fart jokes.), which is why the approval of a first-time commentator is great. Then people like you, and Stu and Adam and Derjis, CKLS, tricotmiss, etc… all get to come back here and comment up and down because we checked you out the first time.

    I think the ignorance and hate is really what gets me about the Journal. (Not to pick on the Journal, since it’s the same at just about all the big news sites.) I totally agree with you that the comment section of websites – just like they pick and choose and even edit letters to the editor – is a chance to liven up the debate, raise the level of discourse and let some creativity shine.

  8. Jeff says:

    By the way, the link in the story, about trolls, is well worth a few minutes of your time if you haven’t see the video.

  9. Gregg says:

    Sometimes the best moderation is one where the commenters moderate themselves. Reddit allows users to vote up or vote down comments made to a particular link or story. If a comment is voted down enough it is dragged to the bottom of the page and hidden, users must click a button to reveal the “moderated” post.

    This method is amazingly effective at shelving offensive comments, or comments that don’t positively contribute to the conversation.

    It’s probably worth noting that Reddit has moderators as well, but I think being able to vote for or against each comment keeps their work load light.

  10. Derjis says:

    I don’t know, I think all of you guys who are having problems with ignorant comments on your blogs must be doing something wrong… I’ve never had any problems with comments on my blog…
    http://tinyurl.com/mkqa43

  11. sally says:

    derjis! i get more than enough JB with jeff’s seemingly incurable case of bieber-fever. i don’t need it from you too. >:(

    also, i interviewed hal niedzeviecki a few months ago and he said something on this topic which really resonated with me:

    “The struggle is how do you do it? How do you keep people remembering there’s really people on the other side of all those wires?”

    obviously nobody has an answer, but i do think self moderated comment communities that require you to prove you’re responsible enough to comment (whether through an account, or a history of non-trolling) are the best good start.

  12. Buddha Pest says:

    I think we’re at an interesting crossroads with the media and the use of twitter, facebook, blogs, etc. There have been a couple of stories and posts recently about what is appropriate use of twitter.

    I’ve emailed the Journal’s website editor a couple of times during the past couple of months advising her that I didn’t think it was appropriate to allow comments for a particular news story. I’ve also emailed her when they’ve posted a video for a particular news story that I didn’t think was appropriate.

    I think editors are going to have to analyze how they use their media sources especially when you think of defamation, plagarism, mis-quotes, sensitivity to victim’s families, government media release protocols, and other issues.

  13. Paul says:

    Anonymous comments are the way to go.

    Look how smoothly it functions on 4chan.

  14. Paul Turnbull says:

    It’s fascinating how what was old is new again. The comment debate has been going on at least since the 80’s when all there was was comments. Back in the BBS days it usually came down to the sysop pruning posts and banning users.

    These days I think we’re finally heading towards solutions. The ranking system pioneered by Slashdot improved things but really is only good compared to the free for all that came before it. Same goes for Digg. Both are sites where the sheer volume of comments overwhelms the effectiveness of the voting systems. I like Gawker’s system as it’s fairly transparent and seems to be working, it also removes the arbitrary nature of user votes.

    Also interesting are reputation systems like StackExchange uses. This one started with StackOverflow.com, a site dedicated to actually useful programming information and branched to StackExchange.com where you can set up your own. CBC Spark’s SparkExchange.ca runs on it. It’s a question based system where reputation is determined by useful answers to questions posed by other users.

    The best way to reduce the trolling is identity. People are far less inflammatory when their name is attached. Float the known’s to the top and push the anonymous comments down.