For many people who own web sites that have articles that allow comments, the free for all that sometimes erupts around “discourse” can often degenerate into an abusive diatribe pitting Republican against Democrat in the best right wing/left wing nut job symbolism out there. Take your pick – we have all dealt with Trollish behavior on the part of our readers.
Pantagraph – an online newspaper out of Bloomington Illinois has decided that enough is enough, and over the end of year holidays – shut down user comments to their site. They state that the reason they did this was:
Unfortunately, some commenters choose to ignore the rules of fair play and civil discourse, which only yields responses from others that turn a legitimate “discussion” into a free-for-all that has no place on our Web site. Continued abuse of our standards could lead to further restrictions. Source: Pantagraph
While amusing, it is doubtful that the “time out” is going to work, people do some of the most amazing things on line that are often hard to believe. If you want to see this in action pull up any Techcrunch article or Gawker article (especially the older ValleyWag articles) and you will see a blistering discourse of abuse, spam ads (at times they sneak through, and in context they are funny), and other wanna be listened to hopefuls that seem to litter the internet.
Commenting is generally used across many sites because they want the discourse. Generally that discourse seems to be friendly, but every once in a while you end up with a Troll or other nut job that wants to make themselves look bigger than they are. This has been a staple of the Internet since it started, people did inexplicable things, and they will continue to do so. Even if it is simply someone on the other side of the conversation that is trying to dominate for no particular reason.
What makes the Trolling style conversations amusing is when the whole conversation starts sounding like some tragicomic situation you might have come across on TV, Radio, Fox News, or CNN. Our popular media excels at the Trollish behavior that we see online, we think this is entertainment. Our conversations online and in comments reflect that. Turning them off is only going to inflame an additional torrent of abuse at Pantagraph when the comments are turned back on, or people figure out what happened, and have an opinion. In the mean time, it looks like comments are still off – it will be interesting to see how long they do stay off, or if they ever come back.
(Cross-posted @ TechWag)