CNN: Arianna Huffington is fed up with the trolls. The founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post says that starting next month, she will require readers to identify themselves by name in the comments sections of her eponymous news site. Huffington made the off-the-cuff comment in a Q&A session after a speech Wednesday to a crowd of 4,000 at a conference in Boston, according to spokeswoman Katie Burke of HubSpot, a marketing software company that hosts the conference. “Freedom of expression is given to people who stand up for what they’re saying and who are not hiding behind anonymity,” Huffington told the audience. “Maintaining a civil environment for real conversation and community has always been key to the Huffington Post. “From day one, our comments were pre-moderated, and we invested in the most advanced moderation technology along with human moderators,” she said. “Now we want to go a step further to evolve our platform — which has always been about community and engagement — to meet the needs of the grown-up Internet.” In other words, the Internet “trolls,” or nasty anonymous commenters, have gotten worse. The Boston Globe, which covered Huffington’s speech, quoted her as saying that “trolls have become more and more aggressive and uglier.” MORE
PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE: Long before he was able to harness the game-changing power of fire to char his meat and illuminate his cave, early man mostly just got burned by his new discovery. Something strikingly similar happened when newspapers tried to harness the game-changing power of social media by opening up the southern meridians of their news stories to anonymous commentary.
Newspapers have been beta-testing online commentary since the late 90’s but until the mid-aughts the jury was still out amongst the ranks of the ink-stained wretches. “There was a conversation in the industry five or six years ago, about whether or not comments were a good thing and for the most part, that issue is settled, and for the most part, journalists believe that comments are a good thing,” says Kelly McBride, an expert in media ethics at the Poynter Institute, a highly-respected journalism think tank that more or less serves as the conscience of the industry. “With the rise of social media, the audience expects to be able to interact with the news they consume.”
Future generations of historians will likely rank the greenlighting anonymous comments as second only to newspapers giving away all their content for free online on the laundry list of tragic miscalculations that damn near killed the paradigm of modern journalism. In the intervening years, the online comments sections of major metropolitan newspapers have become magnets for racists, sociopaths and assorted trolls who deface the walls of award-winning reportage with the graffiti of ignorance and intolerance on a daily basis.
Not surprisingly, Philadelphia is no exception. The comments section of Philly.com — which has served as the on-ramp to the Internet for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News since the mid-90s — is nortorious for being, to borrow a phrase from Obi-Wan Kenobi, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. On a good day it’s bad, on a bad day it’s vile. And every day it’s simply unacceptable.
By way of recent example consider the following: http://www.phillymag.com/articles/inquirer-daily-news-website-commenters-vile/
A heartwarming story about a North Philly pee-wee basketball team that needed $11,000 to get to the Small Fry Basketball Tournament in Orlando and how the community rallied to pony up the money garnered this comment:
YOU ARE LOOKING AT THE GRATERFORD CLASS OF 2020 — LARRY CHESWALD
A story about a little girl kidnapped from school by a woman wearing burqa yielded:
WE HAD GREAT SCHOOLS BEFORE DIVERSITY — CrashTestDems42
A story about a black bus driver who tried to kidnap a child in Delco garnered this bon mot:
A VERY HAPPY BLACK HISTORY MONTH TO ALL!!!!!–cynic al
A story about two barely-teenagers turned into police by their parents for stealing $13 from a 9-year-old-girl yielded this reader response:
TWO MORE FINE PRODUCTS OF THE WELFARE CLASS AND FAILED PHILADELPHIA PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM, THESE TWO PUNKS HAVE HAD EVERYTHING HANDED TO THEM SINCE INCEPTION, WHICH BREEDS LAZINESS AND IRRESPONSIBILITY!!!! GIMME GIMME TAKE TAKE TAKE!! LAZY CREEPS — wallycleaver
A story set in West Philly resulted in this doozy:http://www.phillymag.com/articles/inquirer-daily-news-website-commenters-vile/
BRING IN WILSON GOODE TO DROP A BOMB OVER THAT ENTIRE COMMUNITY. INSTEAD OF MLK DAY WE SHOULD CELEBRATE WILSON GOODE THAT WAS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING I COULD THINK OF…HE IS MY HERO AND WOLD [SIC] VOTE FOR HIM AGAIN. A TRUE PATRIOT! — Friend to All
Philly.com’s toxic race-baiting infamy extends far beyond the city limits. Much like Philly sports fans, the comments section at Philly.com has a well-earned national rep for being among the worst of the worst — which is really saying something.
“Philly has a reputation for being a crass community, doesn’t it?,” says McBride. “That’s the thing about about comments sections, they hold a mirror up to the community and reflect back the good parts as well as the parts that you just don’t find very attractive.”
The fatal flaw of anonymous commenting is built into the name. Anonymity breeds contempt. It subverts the social compact that keeps polite society reasonably so: We know who you are and you will be held accountable for your actions. The hierarchy of the newspaper industry was comprised of old gray men out of their depth when it came to the Internet, so it was relatively easy for young tech whiz kids to get them to drink deep the Kool-Aid of the inarguable necessity of anonymity. Big mistake. “The first people on the Internet were a bunch of twenty-something guys and so early on the Internet felt very much like a fraternity house,” says McBride. “When the Internet first began, and all these twenty-something guys were running it, they told us that that was the way we had to do it.”
In theory, perhaps, but in practice anonymity has proven itself to be counter-productive to journalism’s prime directive: Shine disinfecting sunlight upon the things that go bump in the night and the dirty deeds that lurk in the darkened corners of society. Anonymity may be the coin of the realm on the Internet, but in places like Philadelphia, it can be a pretty base coin.
CABS SHOULDN’T PICK UP BLACK PEOPLE — Philly54321http://www.phillymag.com/articles/inquirer-daily-news-website-commenters-vile/
There’s an old joke that I just made up that goes like this: Philly is where civility and common decency went to die. Not funny, right? That’s because they are laughing at us, not with us. Truth be told it’s not just Philly, it’s everywhere. We are not the exception, we are the rule. Scorched earth has become the first response, not the last option. It’s go big, go nuclear or go home. Social scientists have long complained about the coarsening of American life. The Great Dumbing Down. That a once great democracy is devolving into idiocracy.
It’s often been said that online comments sections hold a mirror up to society, and it’s tempting to say that we are getting the commentary we deserve. But that’s not really accurate. Yes, they are a reflection, but a reflection of only a relatively small angry-to-the-point-of-hateful band of the citizenry that bothered to show up in the mirror, and they always seem to be the loudest one’s with the least to share, the know-nothings proudly doffing their hatfuls of hollow, and the one’s with the biggest axe to grind and the belief that they have no agency to do anything about it.
By unwittingly over-representing the hobgoblins of tiny minds, comments sections are actually holding up a funhouse mirror to society. The problem is not in our stars, it’s not even in ourselves, dear Brutus, it’s the inability of newspapers to control the conversation. They lost control of that conversation the day they allowed commenters to cloak themselves witless aliases and swim at their own risk, absent parental supervision. It was the digital equivalent of leaving a can of spray paint next to a nice expanse of whitewashed wall and acting shocked when it’s covered in grafitti the next morning. MORE