Keeping the Trolls at Bay in Online Discussion and Comments Sections
In recent years we have seen a proliferation in online public consultation tools. These tools include social media sites, comment boards, and discussion forums. Despite the worthy ambition to increase meaningful engagement, not all tools are equally effective. In fact, most fail when it comes to gaming the system on controversial issues or keeping trolls under control. On the subject of trolls, the anonymity provided by these tools creates an environment where people can feed on each other’s dysfunctional offerings of sarcasm or hate without consequence.
There are no shortage of examples indicating that trolls are ruining the fun for everyone. Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo, recently commented on the sites problems with trolls on an internal forum:
“We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.” (CBC)
Social media sites such as Twitter and YouTube are convenient and cost effective ways for organizations to reach and connect with thousands of potential consumers and citizen groups. However, convenience does come at a cost when multiple screen names with zero identity verification allow individuals to skew results and create a breeding ground for trolls to thrive.
Social media sites are not the only ones that are impacted. Internet publications and news media sites are facing the same battle with trolls, and many have been forced to close their comments sections all together:
“Recently, comment sections have been jettisoned by a wide variety of internet publications. Popular Mechanics, Reuters, the Chicago Sun-Times, even popular YouTube personality Felix Kjellberg have all shut off comments for the same reason: there’s just no way to stop the trolls.” (Vancouver Sun)
The question we need to ask is what can be done to limit, or better yet, remove trolls from the discussion entirely? Promoting trust and transparency in online discussion is paramount if we’re to see genuine dialogue and useful input, and removing anonymity by verifying user identities is at the very core of the solution.
A recent example of a successful and notably troll-free discussion is the News1130/PlaceSpeak poll on the Metro Vancouver transportation plebiscite. Since its launch three weeks ago, the poll has received a significant response of close to 700 connected participants and more than 600 comments. The most striking observation is the quality of the responses and the fact that zero comments have been removed for derogatory content. Compare this to the many other discussion forums also focused on the transit plebiscite and it’s quite clear the others are either struggling with rampant inflammatory and offensive remarks or have simply yielded the field to them.
The success here can be attributed to the PlaceSpeak platform’s unique geo-authentication feature. When participants register they are geo-verified as being residents of their neighbourhood. By signing up and being verified, our members have proven that they are real people. As a result, not only is it extremely difficult to game the system by posting multiple survey votes, there is a disincentive to spam or post unproductive comments. Generally, people who actively verify themselves and publically stand behind their points-of-view engage in more meaningful public discourse and leave the trash talk at the door.
Citizens looking to take part in the transit discussion should carefully consider their options. While there is a lot of choice, few forums are actually contributing to meaningful public discourse that will lead to informed decisions when it comes to voting time.
Click here to take part in the News1130/PlaceSpeak Poll and discussion on the transit plebiscite.