LA Times ‘Goal of Civility Is Falling Short’ On Comment Boards

The LA Times‘ struggles to improve the quality of discourse on the comment sections of its stories continued over the weekend. A piece posted online one week ago entitled “Israel fires on pro-Palestinian protesters; 20 reported killed” has drawn over 700 comments so far. But, as of late last week, despite the Times‘ requiring users to leave comments through a Facebook account, trolls still dominated the discussion. Moderators had to intervene, and now all comments on the article will require a moderator’s approval.

From the Times:

Comments on news articles (as opposed to blogs) run through an automated profanity filter, then are posted automatically. The idea, as announced in that 2010 memo, is that the commenting community will police itself, with users being able to report inappropriate comments as abuse. Any comment reported twice will automatically be removed from the site. These hidden comments will be held for review by a small group of Times moderators, who will decide whether to republish the comments or keep them off the site.

More often than not, this works.

Except when it doesn’t. Steve Lopez weighed in on the dilemma: “I’ve had many emails from people wondering how I handle the onslaught of vulgar and racist responses, often unrelated to my column. They also wonder what the unsuspecting subjects of the columns and stories must think about having that kind of nonsense appear next to the stories, like graffiti on a bathroom wall.”

Trolls are a fact of life on the Internet. Especially for a newspaper that’s considered by many conservatives to be politically aligned with the left. As of now, readers of the paper online have three choices when they see a vile comment: they can ignore it, “flag” it, or respond, which is exactly what trolls are looking for. What the Times should probably do is experiment with a Reddit-style voting system. If enough readers vote a comment down it gets buried. More astute comments get voted up and thus receive a more prominent placement at the top of the comment board. Help readers help you separate the wheat from the chaff.