It Took All Of Three Hours To Code A Plugin That Makes News Comments More Civil

from the irredeemable-trolls dept

For years now the narrative du jour in online news circles has been that the news comment section is an irredeemable menace. Outlet after outlet has informed us that they care so much about the integrity of public dialogue online that they’ve decided to ban website visitors from commenting on news articles entirely. Usually, these bans are accompanied by some sanctimonious claim that banning people from speaking on site was done because the outlet in question just really “valued conversation,” or because they’re just ultra-interested in building better relationships.

In reality, the motivation isn’t quite so noble. Most websites just don’t want to spend the time and money it takes to cultivate a healthy online community, in large part because bean counters can’t monetize or measure the impact of quality discourse. Other outlets don’t like having such a visible area where users can point out errors in news coverage. Most really would prefer we return back to the era of “letters to the editor” where the medium gets to dictate whose voices are deemed important, and whose are not. In that way it’s often part power play, and part laziness.

Time and time again, these outlets have claimed that banning comments is the only option because cultivating on-site community is too expensive and time consuming. Again though, there’s every indication that making the news comments section useful again doesn’t take all that much work. In Norway, for example, a five-person team tookt all of three hours to code a WordPress plugin with a comically-simple premise:

“It was a basic idea,” NRKbeta developer Ståle Grut told a South By Southwest crowd on Tuesday. “Readers had to prove they read a story before they were able to comment on it.”

The plugin doesn’t take much work to install, and website operators simply have to build a simple multiple-choice Q&A based on the article to make it work. The coders work for NRKbeta, the tech-testing group at Norway’s largest national media organization. And they were quick to point out that asking your on-site community for help (as opposed to, say, implying that their input is no longer relevant) often pays dividends:

“Use your audience,” Grut told the crowd. “Talk to them; play with them. They’ll like you better for it.”

A WordPress plugin could force users to correctly answer a few multiple-choice questions before the page’s comment field would appear. Once he got to the office, he and fellow staffers spent three hours building the plugin, which Grut reminded the crowd is wholly open source. “Naturally, this was paid for by Norwegian people, so you can thank them if you want to implement it,” Grut said when emphasizing that he was happy if more sites tried it out.”

And while the folks behind the plugin note that it’s not a magic panacea for all news comment hostility, the fact that they were able to modestly tame news comment hostility with a bare modicum of effort suggests the “irredeemable” and widely maligned news comment section isn’t quite the unfixable hellscape many lazy, cheap and threatened media outlets profess it to be.

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Companies: nrkbeta

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Comments on “It Took All Of Three Hours To Code A Plugin That Makes News Comments More Civil”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Yes, for Techdirt?

This would be a worthwhile addition to TD. It wouldn’t stop the two or three career ACs who troll here, but it might slow them down since they can’t read so good.

BTW, I am very happy that TD has kept their forums open to engage the readers. Not so happy with the quality of a one or two posters who seem to have quit their dayjob to spend more time trolling.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

I look forward to the Fox News version:

Who is responsible for the Stormy Daniels scandal?

a) Hillary
b) Obama
c) The Failing New York Times
d) School-age anti gun violence protesters
e) President Donald Trump, the most popular President in history

Anyone who votes e), will not be allowed to post. Which will be arguably correct, because it will indeed show that they didn’t read the story.

Anonymous Coward says:

Some sites don’t want people to comment because that would interfere with the ability for their contributors to be proven wrong. Take Forbes, for example; home of tons of stooges, late last year they got rid of their comment section. Shills like Fred Campbell as well as their whole “Washington Bytes” column, which is just a front for pro-ISP tools to spew corporate talking points.

Then there’s the “freedom” advocates on Forbes, like George Leef and Brian Miller. They claim they’re all for freedom, but really they’re just far-right hacks. What’s particularly hilarious is that they have enough pull with the magazine to get articles taken down that disagree with their points of view, like what happened with a piece by Chris Ladd:

The commenters point out that the explanation for the pulling the article was BS and lies. So much for freedom from those freedom advocates.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Pretty much everybody including gossip and entertainment sites have gotten rid of comments or discussions in the past few years. Its actually disturbing, only ‘social media sites’ like Twitter or Facebook where they can sell you are allowed, and even there theres now tons of ‘hate speech or troll laws’ that censor you or even ban you outright if you brake their ability to appear marketable for their main advertisers.
Hell, even sites where commenting is all they are like Reddit have been heavily censoring anything that goes against the main media narrative or anything even remotely not PC. Even old tech like blogging sites will now censor you or delete your blogs on any complaints, even from a single person.

Since the media conglomerates took over the web, and forums mostly dead, only niche sites like this or chans are now the last refuge of free speech on the Internet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Trump news … aka Sinclair Broadcast Group is the only official news source and all you scum pirate lefties who try to publish your fake news are going to gitmo real soon in addition to all those who read and talk about that fake news.

It will be a big change in the media. The biggest change with the best changes anywhere – bigly.

No collusion. Where is Hope, I can’t find her.

Hugo S Cunningham (profile) says:

Re: Religious contribution to Forbes [Was: Re:

I am no fan of conservative Evangelicals (aka Fundamentalists), but why did you send your denunciation of them to Forbes, a business magazine? Were you responding to a Forbes article about or by such a person or people? If there was such a Forbes link in your article, I missed it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Religious contribution to Forbes [Was: Re:

Forbes has expanded to cover a lot of subjects, not just business and economics. Chris Ladd writes under their “Opinion” section which covers a wide range of politics as well as economics, where he’s one of the very few sane voices in the midst of think-tank shills. He had no problem submitting other articles to the site, as every other piece he’s written is still up there, but apparently this one was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

What I’m trying to get at is that, despite what any of Forbes’ contributors have to say regarding freedom, the magazine doesn’t actually care about it in any way. The site is full of double standards.

I remember one time I commented on an article from Thomas Lindsay, who whines about the “crisis” of free speech on college campuses. I pointed out in the comments that Thomas Lindsay once tried taking over Shimer University, attempting to stack the board with conservative-leaning people who share his view, imitating the supposed behavior he chastises liberals/the left for supposedly using.

My comment was removed shortly afterward. Forbes’ most militant contributors don’t like being proven hypocrites or have facts presented to them that contradict the thrust of their article. The magazine getting rid of the comments section completely was inevitable.

Mr Big Content says:

What A Complete Waist Of Tax Payers Money

The govermnent should NOT be enforcing rules like this. Its bad enough that those of us offering values-oriented viewpoints on the so-called Internet find ourselves CENSERED online, this just gives more power to teh so-called LIBERALS who already DOMINATE far too much online discourse. END THE LETFTWING BIAS NOW!!!!!

Will B. says:

Pardon me being the devil's advocate...

…but I would be somewhat concerned about such a system itself being used to solidify the inherent bias of a comment section. If, rather than a factual question, the questions were opinion-based, and then filtered out those whose opinions contradicted the obvious bias of the article itself, that would likely serve as an added barrier for dissuade opposing viewpoints; it’s hard enough to post opposing viewpoints online without quitting in exhaustion or disgust already, without having to lie about your opinions to even be allowed to post.

(I fully admit this is a “but what if” post, and a mocking “what if the moon was made of cheese” is a legitimate answer; nontheless, I find the question interesting in its own right, even if applicability to the situation is speculative at best.)

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Pardon me being the devil's advocate...

That’s an interesting “what if”, but here’s another: what if someone with a differing opinion actually has a good point to make? I know it’s rare, but those people are out there.

So I think what you’re suggesting is a system that weeds out the far-leaning people that rely on “I just know it” rather than evidence and logic.

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