How Google, Huffington Post are trying to fight nasty comments, anonymity

Dec 27 2013, 12:01 IST
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Websites are trying everything from deploying moderators to forcing people to use their real names to fight vicious comments on their sites. Websites are trying everything from deploying moderators to forcing people to use their real names to fight vicious comments on their sites.
SummaryYouTube, which is owned by Google, has been home to some of Internet's most juvenile comments.

Mix blatant bigotry with poor spelling. Add a dash of ALL CAPS. Top it off with a violent threat. And there you have it: A recipe for the worst of online comments.

Blame anonymity, blame politicians, blame human nature. But a growing number of websites are reining in online commentary. Companies including Google and The Huffington Post are trying everything from deploying moderators to forcing people to use their real names. Some sites, such as Popular Science, are banning comments altogether.

The efforts put sites in a delicate position. User comments add a lively, fresh feel. And, of course, the longer visitors stay to read the posts, and the more they come back, the more a site can charge for advertising.

What websites don't want is the kind of nastiness that appeared under a recent CNN.com article about the Affordable Care Act.

"If it were up to me, you progressive libs destroying this country would be hanging from the gallows for treason. People are awakening though. If I were you, I'd be very afraid,'' wrote someone using the name "JBlaze.''

YouTube, which is owned by Google, has long been home to some of the Internet's most juvenile and grammatically incorrect comments. The video site caused a stir last month when it began requiring people to log into Google Plus to write a comment. Besides herding users to Google's unified network, the company says the move is designed to raise the level of discourse.

A Cheerios cereal commercial featuring an interracial family met with such a barrage of racist responses on YouTube in May that General Mills shut down comments on it altogether.

"Starting this week, when you're watching a video on YouTube, you'll see comments sorted by people you care about first,'' wrote YouTube product manager Nundu Janakiram and principal engineer Yonatan Zunger in a blog post announcing the changes.

Anonymity has always been a major appeal of online life. Two decades ago, The New Yorker magazine ran a cartoon with a dog sitting in front of a computer, one paw on the keyboard. The caption read: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog.''

At its best, anonymity allows people to speak freely without repercussions. It allows whistleblowers and protesters to express unpopular opinions. At its worst, it allows people to spout off without repercussions. It gives trolls and bullies license to pick arguments, threaten and abuse.

But anonymity has been eroding. On the Internet, many

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