On Commenting Policies

Not necessarily on this blog — though, Will, you keep getting into the Spam folder, so wordpress must be doing something right — but there was an excellent post on newspaper websites & commenting by Scott Rosenberg that I cannot recommend enough.  Really, read it, and the article that inspired it.  Some of the quotes you might find of interest:

They blame anonymity. If only they could make people “sign their real names,” surely the atmosphere would improve!

This wish is a pipe dream. They are misdiagnosing their problem, which has little to do with anonymity and everything to do with a failure to understand how online communities work.

It is one of the great tragedies of the past decade that so many media institutions have failed to learn from the now considerable historical record of success and failure in the creation of online conversation spaces.

If you opened a public cafe or a bar in the downtown of a city, failed to staff it, and left it untended for months on end, would you be surprised if it ended up as a rat-infested hellhole?

Show me a newspaper website without a comments host or moderation plan and I’ll show you a nasty flamepit that no unenforceable “use your real name” policy can save. Telling Web users “Use your real name” isn’t bad in itself, but it won’t get you very far if your site has already degenerated into nasty mayhem.

No, anonymity isn’t the problem. (Wikipedia seems to have managed pretty well without requiring real names, because it has an effective system of persistent identity.) The problem is that once an online discussion space gets off to a bad start it’s very hard to change the tone.

But, really, the money quote is:

Maybe, though, no one was ever really serious about that conversation. Maybe the idea was to boost ad impressions with an abundance of verbiage supplied gratis by the readership. In that case, stop complaining about the flame wars and accept that the more abusive your commenters wax, the more your crass strategy will succeed.

You should also read this, this, and this in the comments section.  And then forward the whole shebang to the telegram.com web team.  Though, if you find Rosenberg’s argument persuasive, and I do, then it would take a lot more than comment moderation to change the tenor of commenting on that website.

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2 thoughts on “On Commenting Policies

  1. Jeff Barnard says:

    Isn’t it a sorta-kinda post mortem style that the T&G has now?… with the “report abuse” button?

    They do have a requirement to go through an e-mail verification process, so that’s basically a “registration” step. But I would bet that full moderation is beyond the budget.

    Before they made the change to what they have now, it was truly a pathetic free for all! Now it’s mostly a page-view generator with the top ten list of most commented stories prominently displayed in the right hand column of the front page.

  2. [...] [16:08] A T&G columnist wrote about their legendarily awful online comments section—bloggers have been complaining about this for years and years, and the paper has yet to fix the problem. [...]

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