Trolling the front page.
December 5, 2009 11:18 PM   Subscribe

"Publishing anonymous, unvetted, and unreviewed commentary online is hugely divergent from the policies of [mainstream media] publications' print editions. It's a different kettle of fish, one that can stink for the publishers. Indeed, those publishers and their new-media managers are being reckless."

    However -- "I am writing in defense of the anonymous, unmoderated, often appallingly inaccurate, sometimes profane, frequently off point and occasionally racist reader comments that allows."
    A 2006 study observed that readers prefered to participate on sites with moderated comment threads. A 2008 survey further indicated that readers were slightly in favour of commenting anonymously, while editors were less enthusiastic about the practice.
posted by Ouisch (58 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Exterminate the brutes.
posted by Artw at 11:46 PM on December 5, 2009

The captcha, the captcha...
posted by Bromius at 11:50 PM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

The old media- or more accurately, the institutions of old media and the individuals who have invested in them and who have invested themselves in them- really, honestly do believe themselves to be gatekeepers of public comment and opinion. They really do think that it is up to them to protect the discourse, that anyone with the least bit of intelligence or savvy pays attention to the comments on newspaper websites, which are infamous for being terrible messes of inanity and stupidity.

No fucking wonder they're circling the drain. We can complain that the slow death of print journalism (and I use that word hesitantly in 2009) will lead to the end of investigation and reporting, and roll our eyes at blogs and say that they only comment and don't do actual reporting, but the captains of the print journalism industry are drunk at the wheel.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:55 PM on December 5, 2009 [5 favorites]

Comments on newspaper websites *are* uniformly fucking terrible though.

I think the mistake here is they look at them and assume that the comments are significant, rather than thinking "aha, a comments section, that's going to be 90% ranting bullcrap then".
posted by Artw at 11:59 PM on December 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Also, there rises the question of just why newspaper comment sections are as terrible as they are. I would venture to guess that they are that way because big-name websites, the sorts of websites that would be in walled gardens like AOL and CompuServe if those were still a thing, are the kinds of places that appeal to what any self-important netizen would look down their noses at as the hoi polloi. The sorts of people who in 1999 never actually opened a web browser and stayed in AOL's walled garden are out in the world wide web now, and not being very savvy, they're going to end up at places with big offline names attached to them. Hence they find their local newspaper's website and don't, for example, find a forum or livejournal community dedicated to their community.

Short version: the sorts of people who would post comments on newspapers are going to be the sorts of people who it wouldn't occur to to find places like Metafilter or Fark or Slashdot.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:00 AM on December 6, 2009 [8 favorites]

I dunno, have you read Slashdot lately?
posted by Artw at 12:01 AM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

the sorts of people who would post comments on newspapers are going to be the sorts of people who it wouldn't occur to to find places like Metafilter

But I think we can attribute much of the quality of discourse here (though it's obviously not always perfect and can sometimes get nasty) to the fact that we enjoy moderated comment threads.

The moderation is fairly light-handed, but it's there, and I think it's crucial. I think employing a similar sort of moderation on news websites (though obviously labour-intensive) might stand a chance of improving discourse there, immeasurably. Which would be a good thing.

Otherwise the people interested in good-faith debate and civil disagreement are basically shouted down and routed by trolls and sockpuppets, resulting in lowest-common-denominator-quality discussion. Which isn't useful for anybody, really.
posted by Ouisch at 12:06 AM on December 6, 2009 [11 favorites]

The $5 fee and the mods are helpful, too, yeah. I would recommend some version of the MeFi/SA model for any discussion-oriented site.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:10 AM on December 6, 2009

The cash does make a significant difference. $5 weeds out a lot of sock puppets, and a fair amount of people who'd just do drive by comments otherwise. Stupider to do an "X sucks" post when you can get greasemonkeyed out of existence at the drop of a hat. I do think that people shouldn't be required to use a real name or anything like that. I'm fine with just establishing a posting identity and then using that.
posted by Peztopiary at 12:26 AM on December 6, 2009

I can go either way on the concept of persistent online identities, though I wonder if that's a generational thing. I kind of like being me whereever I go, and it does lead to some "Hey, I know you from Metafilter!" moments, but it seems like I meet more people lately who prefer to use throwaway names at all times and shift their identities more frequently.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:29 AM on December 6, 2009

spEak You're bRanes rounds up some of the barmier comments on the BBC's Have Your Say forums.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:52 AM on December 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

hmmm... comments ON the webpages of News "jouralis-m" "websites" appear to very often resemble the tergiversation of glossolalia? or more accurately, depict an impression of what angry children of angry bigots might say, behind closed doors, in the privacy of their own... well, lairs. Now if ONLY we could figure out what MADE them so angry, messed up, hateful and believing of odd disconnects between reality and their world views...I know, we should find out where they get their infotaini-formation.
meh. who knows, maybe I sound as angry as the bigots, or a bigot of bigots (not, am I; pointless would that be.) (just feelin' that there are some quality control issues with modern "journalism." itself. that is all.- start with the head of the hydra... then worry about any tails, and tentacles that it has. (is that itself a truism?)
seriously... what is someone going to say anon, that they couldn't say as a human person... and if the entire argument is going anon... why should one listen, or care... because it's likely to take a 10x stronger case to get people to listen if you won't speak that way.

hence, empirical studies may show, and some say that 9/10 posts on any of "alex jones'" sites contain... "hey, that guys paid disinfo", "no, you are", "no, you are", "hey, this guy's stealing my name"- in my mind it ALL quickly becomes disinformation.. (could be early onset mad-cow however) - we should all be as proud of our identities as this guy... when the Newspapers websites are more like the conspiracy websites... we're doing something wrong. - then again, takes out the "personality politics" of political debate (like; i don't like that person... therefore i shall ignore their arguments.) /me conflicted
posted by infinite intimation at 1:02 AM on December 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

...or maybe I'm wrong about everything.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:46 AM on December 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

I simply cannot read local newspaper website comments. They simply make me angry, and it just isn't worth losing the brain cells.
posted by maxwelton at 1:54 AM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Newspapers are stupid. Newspaper readers are stupid. Newspapers on the web combine the stupidity of newspapers with the stupidity of newspaper reader populations who think that "the web" is their effing newspaper online. If you read an online version of a print newspaper in 2009 and expect it and its reader commenters to be anything but stupid, you are suffering from nostalgic delusions.
posted by telstar at 2:13 AM on December 6, 2009

Newspapers are stupid. Newspaper readers are stupid...

As I read newspapers and write for them I must be double stupid.
posted by rhymer at 2:46 AM on December 6, 2009

I used to write letters to the editor, but after one particularly egregious episode where some shitmonkey of a subeditor meddled in my text, ruining the metre and entirely changing the meaning, I gave it up. Irritating as the occasional deletion may be, thankfully our mods here show us enough respect to refrain from actually changing what we write.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:55 AM on December 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

I could go either way. The deep investigative journalism is damn useful.

I think we should ban university journalism departments though. Or require students to do a dual major, like science+journalism.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:59 AM on December 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

It can't be the quality of the newspaper readers. Usenet was just as full of trolls and bullshit, and its audience was much higher educated than average.

I think Feaver's essay was reasonable. But I sure wouldn't want the job of reading news website comments to sift out the useful feedback.
posted by zompist at 3:52 AM on December 6, 2009

The major problem in newspaper comments is essentially an operational one* -- there's a huge volume, and who do you want to moderate it? Want to hand it over to reporters? They've lost half the newsroom staff. Want to hand it over to the website? There's a significant emphasis on breaking news and keeping things moving. They don't have the time, either, to sit there and vet 170 comments on one immigration story. There are ten to fifteen other stories getting that same kind of volume.

Outsource moderation? Okay. But comment policy requires a high level of reading comprehension and shared judgment. It's easy enough to cull really glaring offenses, but offenses that are sneering, sarcastic, or just plain stupid or illiterate fall through the cracks--they're too busy taking down the really obvious problem comments.

You can get the newsroom into this, but that requires executive buy-in. It can't surprise anyone that love for the internet isn't overwhelming in many local newsrooms, and as I mentioned, they have their own coverage problems.

Metafilter has three active moderators. I think I did some rough math on it, and figured out that to do that type of moderation, engaged, thoughtful moderation, in the circumstance above that I'm most familiar with, you'd need seventy moderators.

Then when you consider what you want from the moderators in terms of education, reading comprehension, experience -- and then figure out what they would cost--in this economy? Yeeesh. Try selling that budget to Fiesty Joe at Grumpilicious News Service.

*and there are a host of other problems people have mentioned -- low stakes, low barrier to entry, anonymity.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:00 AM on December 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

And the people who work for newspapers, or read newspapers, are often investing their interesting comments, their insights, etc. on other sites that aren't populated by people who type in all caps.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:17 AM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Popular sites are magnets for trolls, drive-bys, spammers, partisans, and people who are just fighty. Anonymity -- and, by that, I mean the lack of a sustained and accountable Web identity -- is a huge contributing factor to this; people tend to behave better when they are accountable. When I moderated a Web forum, I managed to kill about 30 percent of this sort of misbehavior just by registering the named "just sayin'," which seemed to be one of the most popular anonymous identities when somebody was feeling assholish.

The biggest problem for newspapers is their steadfast refusal to moderate. A lot of them are under the mistaken notion that moderating makes them legally liable for what people say in the comments section. Others are just too cheap. So they become targets for people who will use any story at all -- even stories about overweight cats or liquor sales -- to complain about Obama and socialism, or to make racist statements, or whatever particular kind of online abuse appeals to them most of all. And people fuss and holler the moment you start moderating, as though newspapers are somehow obligated to provide a forum for partisanship or racism or idiocy. They aren't. They don't even have to allow comments, and I would argue that if they aren't going to moderate their comments, they shouldn't even give the option, because in an unmoderated forum, uncivility and misbehavior will crowd out worthwhile comments in no time flat, and all you will be left with will be the misbehavors.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:07 AM on December 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Our Founding Fathers wrote ‘The Federalist Papers’ under pseudonyms. Shouldn’t that right extend to the new public square of the Internet?
posted by krautland at 5:35 AM on December 6, 2009

Our Founding Fathers wrote ‘The Federalist Papers’ under pseudonyms. Shouldn’t that right extend to the new public square of the Internet?

They didn't write it as a letter to the editor in all caps with liberal use of racial epithets. There are plenty of opportunities for anonymity online -- it's the largest and freest publishing platform in history. Newspapers' comments sections are not obligated to extend that supposed right of anonymity if they choose not to, and people have every opportunity to go somewhere else and publish.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:42 AM on December 6, 2009 [7 favorites]

Our little local paper has begun moderating comments but it's been somewhat controversial. Particularly what they're choosing to moderate. The paper seems to be deleting things for political reasons, and has been known to delete things that are critical of the paper itself. It doesn't always delete things that seem trollish but does seem to delete quite a bit of citizen journalism; comments adding details to stories. I suppose they do that over concerns abut libel, but I think that concern is misplaced. The most frustrating part of all this is there is no stated policy, and no way to contact the moderators about their choices. The comments just disappear. It's sort of what I expect a forum might be like in China or North Korea.

They desperately need a $5 sign-up fee.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:49 AM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I moderate the comments for Boston Globe's Big Picture blog (as well as run the blog), and want to speak up in defense of anonymity. It makes my life difficult, and it can make for some really unsavory or uninteresting comments, sure (most people I ask tell me they think the comments on my blog are horrible). However, it can (in my experience and opinion) lead to greater participation from those who might otherwise feel uninvited or hesitant, especially in an international context.

The way I look at it is this: the photographs (and news stories) evoke emotions and reactions. If I can provide a semi-sane place for those reactions to live, then I'm doing something worthwhile.

Most of the comments I moderate out are a) spam, b) abusive, c) completely offtopic or derailing, d) racist or otherwise offensive. Beyond that, I don't feel it's up to me to judge. For instance, the most recent entry is about the Olympic Torch going to Vancouver - many of the comments are negative, angry about the waste of money, the perceived stereotyping of Canada as all eskimos, the uselesness of the games, etc. I didn't expect that reaction, but so what - it is what it is. (For the record, the reason there's so much focus on northern natives in the photos is simple - the majority of communities visited so far by the torch relay are in the North)

I get a lot of people beging me to eliminate comments altogether, to make the features stand alone without comment. I always tell them they can ignore the comments if they choose (they're at the bottom). I still consider the value of having comments all the time -whether it's worth it to continue having them. The volume I continue get tells me they are valuable to many - and sometimes the volume itself tells a story: I have over 14,000 comments on the entry about Obama's Inauguration, for example.

So yeah, I work for a newspaper, even though my instance is in blog format, and I moderate my own comments, and it's a ton of work to do so. But for the whole website - all articles every day? I can't imagine the effort it would take to pre-moderate every single comment, and the post-moderation model is going to allow anyone to say anything and invite abuse in some cases.
posted by kokogiak at 5:49 AM on December 6, 2009 [6 favorites]

There is a stark difference between publius and these bottom feeders that post racist garbage in the comments sections on news websites.

First of all, there are a million venues for anonymous self-publishing on the net these days. It takes 2 minutes to set up a blog, and with time, thoughtful critique, and networking you can reach a broad audience. The only reason to comment on an article on a huge news website is stimulus response; in a matter of minutes you can provoke the same impassioned, outraged response that might have taken you weeks or months otherwise.

I'm not entirely sold on the idea that the folks who comprise the comments sections on news websites are their readership base. In any public forum, it's usually the loudest and most poorly reasoned arguments that get the most attention by shouting down people with actual points (I.e.: town hall meetings, Joe Wilson). That these folks pollute the comments section doesn't mean that they represent the reader base. Personally, I believe that of people are planning on commenting on news websites, they should be prepared toy use their real first and last names.

Newspapers don't have a stranglehold on journalism or distribution any longer, nor are there laws against anonymously self-publishing. Anonymous commenting on news sites is just giving a voice and a vehicle to the lowest common denominator. In my opinion, if they want to be heard, it should be earned, not given away.

On preview: thank you for your take on this kokogiak. I love how on metafilter we always hae someone on the inside. My question to you would be why do you think people are afraid to comment of there's no option to do it anonymously?
posted by orville sash at 6:35 AM on December 6, 2009

orville - I don't have hard evidence, but from what I could pick up during the Iranian election protest and crackdown, even the hint of being identified was enough to cause some to shy away from commenting. I know that's an extreme example, but I get enough commentary from people who are obviously not comfortable with english - any sort of a challenge to register or pay would most certainly put them off.
posted by kokogiak at 6:43 AM on December 6, 2009

I suppose they do that over concerns abut libel, but I think that concern is misplaced.
Not so much. I used to work for a paper that was nearly sued into extinction over libel in online comments.

Newspaper comments always make me despair. The only chance print journalism has online is to bring the quality and the depth, yet on all of their output there is this little string of turds attached. And they are turds, anonymous ranting drivel. What's more, they bring absolutely no value to readers. I started on the 14,000-strong comment thread on kokogiak's Obama post: and quickly stepped away. "GOD IS GOOD!!!!!", "PRAISE THE LORD!", "WoW! O_o Gratz,im a little late" etc etc.

The problem there is that there's no community at all -- there rarely is on news sites, because the format of individual articles with turds attached doesn't help to foster one, let alone the problems of anonymity and mentalism. So the comments are always going to be individuals ranting into the void. This is also one of the problems with YouTube's comments. If there had been a community, I might have been a part of it, and would have delved into the thread (though, to be honest, I doubt I'd have read a 14,000 MeFi thread on Obama, even though I'd expect that to have a lot more worthwhile stuff in it)

No community means no discussion means no added value. The Big Picture may be a place for people to vent their emotions and reactions, but does that add anything to my experience of it? I don't think so: I'm there for great photography. If a photography-centred discussion group had arisen around it, that would be definitely be something of value; there's a shortage of them online. But 14,000 people going "wooo"? Waste of time. You could achieve the same with a "like" button.

It's surprising that newspapers have been so bad at this. Their letters pages are often focal points of civic discussion, and they engender a real sense of community. But they do so by being a) linked to real names and b) fiercely moderated. If you want a letter printed in a good paper, you need to bring your A game. If you want a letter printed on its website, you just need to be able to bring a body part into contact with the keyboard for a bit.

Part of the problem is the thinking that "pre" and "post" moderation is all there is; but this makes the assumption that every assmuncher who approaches the keyboard needs to be given equal consideration. Really, there's a third option: ignore the flood, and maybe surf through to pick the gems up when somebody has time. Only publish the very best. The volume will drop quickly enough, and what's left will be a group of dedicated people raising their game to get published.
posted by bonaldi at 6:47 AM on December 6, 2009 [11 favorites]

But 14,000 people going "wooo"? Waste of time

To be fair, yeah, that is a lot of what I get, certainly a majority of the comments in most posts, but I do not think it's a waste of time for many. But - in some cases, that in itself is of value. When some Muslims comment on entries I've made about Ramadan or the Hajj, there is often a sense of "wow, look at all these people worshipping in the great photos - and how nice to see the outpouring of good wishes in the comments".

I didn't open the comments section to build a community, there are tons of other places for that to take place (MeFi for example). It's a place for people to comment, plain and simple.

I think the NYTimes does a lot of what you mention at the end bonaldi, surfing through, finding only gems. That works fairly well for them, but I'm trying to be as inclusive as possible, even if that means things get noisy. I may, however, in the future try to take that approach more - or at least promote the best comments to the top.
posted by kokogiak at 7:00 AM on December 6, 2009

Just have a counter. Three misspellings, or two plus one incomplete sentence, or any racist or profane term and the comment goes into the wastebasket. Should catch most of the commenters, who seem rarely to have been exposed to the idea that English has rules.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:03 AM on December 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

bonaldi: If you want a letter printed in a good paper, you need to bring your A game. If you want a letter printed on its website, you just need to be able to bring a body part into contact with the keyboard for a bit.

I laughed and agree.
posted by selton at 7:04 AM on December 6, 2009

I'm pretty sure most old world publishers let racists and bigots shit all over their site because it encourages stupid flame wars that result in shit tons of pageviews. And that's how you make a meagre amount of money in advertising.
posted by chunking express at 7:47 AM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

when our little papers finally got comments, about two years ago, I argued for captcha plus moderation only. the demographics of our area are such that only about a fifth of the county has hi-speed and can even read the paper online, and that service is so new that the practice is nothing like entrenched.

I wanted to make reading and commenting to be as easy as possible, figuring we'd deal with trolls as they arose. I was overruled and they made it so you had to register a real email address and password, then receive an activation token, then login to post comments. In other words, an insurmountable obstacle.

I've been online since around 1990 and I never login to anything unless it's really, really awesome. I quit reading the WaPo when you had to have a real login just to get content. But these are people who need their kids to show them how to plug the interwebs in to email pix to gramma.

So, as I predicted, two years into our comment-harvesting experiment, our paper receives an average of zero comments per week. zero. honestly, a flame war would be a success beyond our wildest imaginings.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:03 AM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just a counter-point to some of the posters above:
Pope Guilty: "The $5 fee and the mods are helpful, too"
Toekneesan: "They desperately need a $5 sign-up fee"

I don't think that's the biggest driver of improved discourse. Looking back over my years of lurking I can remember periods of extended trolling and more prevalent bad commenting behaviour. A fee doesn't always ensure sane discussion prevails.

One difference between sites like MeFi and a typical news media site is that MeFi emphasizes the community aspect right from the get-go. The typical draw media sites use to encourage comments is 'have your say'. Note the differerence in emphasis; it's on the group here rather than the individual - participate, not vent; be open to the rest, instead of closed-minded venting.

Another difference is how objectionable behaviour is handled within a comment thread. Setting aside mod deletions, there's a fair bit more attention to calling out poor form by fellow posters, and calling it out in a reasoned way. The odd smackdown is there too, sure; but it's usually based on reasonable cause, and if not the smackdown can also be smacked down. It's sometimes not pretty, but that's community. It's not just one extremist shouting at another.

And when things heat over, the discussion is not simply stopped; the MeTa option is always there as yet another release for the dissatisfied. If the community doesn't steer a derail over there, the mods will. Not without its flaws, sure, but it's another thing that keeps threads cleaner, and one that other sites don't do as well as here IMO.

So it's not just fees; community is just as big a driver in improving comments. That comes with commitment and time. Which is another difference; I doubt the Washington Post has as many all-day web addicts writing comments as we do.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:23 AM on December 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Toekneesan: "They desperately need a $5 sign-up fee."

Our little paper did just that, well it's actually $30/year but they've put all of the "interactive features" behind the wall. I've never ponied up the money to peer behind the wall so I don't know how it's doing.
posted by octothorpe at 8:44 AM on December 6, 2009

kokogiak- I like the idea of promoting the best comments to the top. I'm not sure how much work that would be, and who would do it for a newspaper. My niece is graduating from college with a major in journalism, and I'm kind of afraid she would be doing it.
posted by acrasis at 8:45 AM on December 6, 2009

Not so much. I used to work for a paper that was nearly sued into extinction over libel in online comments.

I mean they have the idea that moderating comments makes them more liable, legally, so they leave comments unmoderated; to the best of my knowledge, this isn't the case.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:09 AM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I finally had to quit reading the comments on my local rag because they were the most ignorant, vile, racist, mean-spirited trash I've ever seen in my entire life. Topix forums are absolutely the toilet of the internet. Without quality moderation, all you're left with is a shouty, moronic Town Hall meeting comprised of strident knuckle-draggers, and in this economic climate, very few newspapers are willing to pony up for this vital piece to the online puzzle.
posted by porn in the woods at 9:15 AM on December 6, 2009

The San Diego U-T website had a feature on its stories I loved: "Hide Comments.". Unfortunately, when they overhauled the website they changed comment solutions and that feature went away. I wish all papers had that feature.
posted by birdherder at 9:58 AM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Online newspapers are desperate to raise revenue, and people obviously place some value on being able to post comments and I think it's pretty apparent that placing a barrier to entry improves comment quality. I'm pretty sure a paper could come up with an economic model that would pay for the necessary moderators. Just charge for the right to comment on articles.
posted by empath at 10:08 AM on December 6, 2009

Indeed, those publishers and their new-media managers are being reckless. And if you think I've used too strong a word, poll newspaper libel lawyers and libel insurers.

From my experience as the spouse of a manager at an ISP, moderation actually opens the operator of the website up to more liability than leaving the forum unmoderated. The host of an unmoderated forum is not legally responsible for its contents, whereas the host of a moderated site is, since it is assumed that he has approved all content. This is a legal doctrine that dates back to questions about responsibility for Usenet content.

The ISP my spouse worked at found that if they edited out certain Usenet posts for groups that they hosted, they would then be legally responsible for the entire content of Usenet that they allowed their clients to access. This tilted the balance away from the Net-nanniess on the board, who wanted the power to delete Usenet posts that they didn't like, toward the free-speechers.

This doctrine recognizes the difference in process between the production of print media and the production of online fora. In print media, nothing gets printed without the approval of someone,even if it's only the typesetter. In online fora, it all depends on the policies of the owner, and the level of liability reflects on those policies.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:47 AM on December 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

one particularly egregious episode where some shitmonkey of a subeditor meddled in my text, ruining the metre and entirely changing the meaning, I gave it up.

I'm in the same boat. The letters policy at most newspapers says that you agree to editing, but when the editing makes you look like a Nazi (never mind the meter), there's no sense in even trying. Complaints are not even acknowledged.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:50 AM on December 6, 2009

Should catch most of the commenters, who seem rarely to have been exposed to the idea that English has rules.

That'll get rid of all those dirty furriners who want to mess up our good American web sites.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:58 AM on December 6, 2009

Personally, I don't think that major newspapers and magazines should allow comments on their articles. Those forums tend to become full of noise and are ultimately distracting to the reader. They add nothing to the content.

Comment streams increase traffic and when ad revenue is declining, you jump on every sure thing you've got, and however repellent some of those comment threads might be, they're compelling. You get eyes on the page. Basically, it's monetizing outrage.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:52 AM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Kokogiak, you surely didn’t moderate all those 14,000 comments in that entry. Comment moderation faces problems of scale. In many contexts it just doesn’t scale.
posted by joeclark at 12:22 PM on December 6, 2009

If libel is such a big deal why is it only newspaper web sites that seem to be pulled into court? It it only because they are actual businesses with money and assets? I mean google has money and assets and runs, so why do they seem to have no issue with being so concerned with what the dregs of the internet has to say? It seems to me like if this were really an issue then we'd hear a lot more about bloggers and forum administrators getting taken to court for something their users wrote. There are an enormous amount of places on the internet where people spew vile things, so why is this only a concern for newspapers? I just don't get the special-snowflake attitude.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:43 PM on December 6, 2009

People in the spotlight -- and their lawyers -- are used to suing newspapers (and they're very used to negotiating settlements out of court). Legal actions happen at newspapers almost weekly; there's usually a managing editor somewhere whose job it is to deal with it all, and cut the cheques when required. It's just seen as a cost of doing business

Compare that to the huge resistance you as Joe Celebrity would get trying to sue Amazon or Google. You'd have them hiring massive teams of lawyers and then you'd be sinking megabucks into a precedent-setting case on uncertain ground and with no guarantee of anything like a good outcome. No way: just do the same-old same-old shakedown of people you know are either going to pay up or apologise.
posted by bonaldi at 1:18 PM on December 6, 2009

(That said, nearly every forum of significance I've been on has had a legal scare at some point, including this one)
posted by bonaldi at 1:19 PM on December 6, 2009

Newspaper comments are mainly covered under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

From Wikipedia:
It added protection for online service providers and users from action against them for the actions of others, stating in part that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider". Effectively, this section immunizes ISPs and other service providers from torts committed by users over their systems, even if the provider fails to take action after actual notice[1].
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:07 PM on December 6, 2009

@joeclark actually, yes, I did moderate all 14,000 comments. My blog has (over some 250 entries) accumulated over 120,000 comments - every one read and approved by yours truly. It's a bit insane, but I treat it like email time, checking in a little bit throughout the day.
posted by kokogiak at 2:26 PM on December 6, 2009

I've been hoping the CBC would add a $5 pay option that would let me turn off the comment cesspool.

It would totally be worth it.
posted by Decimask at 7:40 PM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Short version: the sorts of people who would post comments on newspapers are going to be the sorts of people who it wouldn't occur to to find places like Metafilter or Fark or Slashdot.

Huh? Arrogant much? Why wouldn't people comment at newspaper sites--on matters of local interest or otherwise--and comment here?

That aside, much as I like Caturday, seemingly holding up Fark and Slashdot as places for substantive, low-moran-factor discourse is hard to take seriously.
posted by ambient2 at 8:43 PM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

As mentioned above, the worst thing about newspaper comment sections is the constant "talking points" trolling.

Story: "Bakery truck overturns on highway 520 snarling traffic"
Guaranteed comment: "Guess NObama is going to have to find a different way to deliver bread to his socialist buddies."

Worse is the racism and sexism. Any police blotter story is fecund ground for the usual crap if the suspect is not a white male. It's infuriating.

While we're talking about comments, blog comment sections could be improved 1000% by simply eliminating the "website" field in the comment form. Most popular blogs, like the Big Picture, are absolutely filled with comments from other bloggers who must have read the same SEO guide--the comment consists of meaningless junk like "nice story, I read it and liked it" with the sole purpose being to get that link to their website. It's pathetic. (I hope google automatically no-follows those links, have no idea.)
posted by maxwelton at 9:32 PM on December 6, 2009

bonaldi: "This is also one of the problems with YouTube's comments."

I do some work on a YouTube-based show and have been most surprised to find a fairly vibrant community bubbling away under the radars of most adult users. The YouTube community is centered around vloggers, they all know each other and post respnses to each others videos and comment and promote and rate and subscribe. Take the top 5 most subscribed YouTube channels of all time. Who are these people and why have the vast majority of adults never heard of them when we're familiar with Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers?

I guess my point is that community has to form around something and News is just too broad a topic to form a community around.
posted by minifigs at 4:37 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

They didn't write it as a letter to the editor in all caps with liberal use of racial epithets.
it probably felt similar to the british monarchy. you seem to be stating the content is what dictates how a message may be delivered. I am not willing to accept that. either it is acceptable for whatever some douchebag in a basement is wishing to say or it isn't at all, which I am not willing to stand for either.

and people have every opportunity to go somewhere else and publish.
that sounds like those fenced-in "free speech zones" fifteen miles away from the street the president is actually going to drive down that day.
posted by krautland at 9:56 AM on December 7, 2009

that sounds like those fenced-in "free speech zones" fifteen miles away from the street the president is actually going to drive down that day.

There's a difference between the government castrating protest and private entities refusing to publish things they don't want to publish.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:09 AM on December 7, 2009

private entities refusing to publish things they don't want to publish.
but the private entity isn't publishing here it's that they would like to keep some from publishing their own opinions at a place where they very well wish to have comments because they keep people coming back and accumulating hits. they want to have their cake and eat it, too.
posted by krautland at 2:37 AM on December 8, 2009

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