Nuvi comment bubbles

Bullies in the Sandbox – the underbelly of online media

For the past six months I’ve been using NUVI a real-time social media-monitoring tool – to track mentions and conversations about a crisis communication-related topic. NUVI allows me to view and track fresh blogs, Facebook posts, tweets and even comments posted on media websites.

Totally NSA, I know.

Here’s the thing. I’m also observing cadres of mouth-breathing trolls who spend their entire days professing their, supposedly, informed interpretation of issues. While I support enthusiasm for expressing opinions, the tragic reality is that most are basing their opinions on incorrect information and false rumors. A little research, say simply reading the article they’re posting a comment beneath or having a basic understanding of the judicial process, would abate their sharpest criticisms. Unfortunately, these people live in a universe unbound by reasoned thought and discourse. That universe is the comment section of online media.

Comments from a recent Willamette Week article.

Comments from a recent Willamette Week article.

If you’ve read the comment section of any online news story you’ve likely seen the mutterings of these befuddled dunderheads – or others who intentionally propagate false information for whatever distorted aims they have.

Sit back and ponder the negative consequences of these ‘communities.’ You’ll soon find yourself outraged that media sites are, seemingly, pandering to the bullies in the sandbox. To what end? Increased web traffic? Beefy analytics reports? Is there research showing that trolls are more likely to buy subscriptions or purchase products promoted by online advertisements?

I don’t think all web visitors are worth the same value to a marketer, and I’m gonna sound like a blowhard here – but I believe comment sections are bad for society and likely drive ineffective data for marketers. A direct result is that toxic misinformation and uneducated conjecture is spread like a communicable disease to ends of the earth. I have seen it with my own eyes, and it isn’t pretty.

Jimmy modeling the new AM:PM-brand anti-troll 3000

Jimmy modeling the new AM:PM PR-brand anti-troll 3000

Now, I am not arguing for the abolishment of the comment section. There are some threads where interesting, smart, thoughtful people chime in and contribute to an article. Unfortunately, these instances are far too rare.

What I want is for news organizations to take a stand against enabling the overflow of idiocy cascading from comment sections like the frothy foam forming from the mouths of their most racist and bigoted supporters. These sites have nothing to lose, but our society has a lot to gain.

keep calm don't feed trolls

For More:
Russian internet “troll” sues former employer
Comment sections are poison: handle with care or remove them
How Comments Shape Perceptions of Sites’ Quality—and Affect Traffic

1 reply
  1. Colby
    Colby says:

    IMHO (in my humble opinion) this issue has grown with the expansion of content available on mobile devices and the accessibility of a spontaneous response afforded to online readers. And with a internet-connected culture of short attention spans and pseudo-anonymity web access, people fail to think before acting. And then there it is – out for everyone to see. … well, at least their comments, as they feel emboldened by the ability to share what they want from behind a cloak of anonymous aliases and avatars.

    I’m proud of media outlets that have recognized the issue and how it can directly impact their own image. For example, KATU-2 decided to end unfiltered comments and explained it in a concise, respectful manner:

    We have made the difficult decision to turn off our on-site comment systems.

    Over the years, more and more user conversation has migrated to Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, and moderating the many discussion channels is an increasingly demanding task.

    We have always valued your thoughts and opinions about our reporting and the stories we cover.

    We invite you to continue to join us in conversation on our station Facebook and Twitter accounts. You can also interact directly with reporters, anchors and other newsroom staff on those platforms.

    KATU 2 Commenting changes

    I think of this like a business that has a large bulletin board where everyone can see it. Some places might let you put anything you want on the bulletin board, others might require it to be submitted for review before they post it up behind a glass door, and then others keep their area free of all the clutter and don’t even have a place to announce their content publicly. This last option seems the most inviting to me. I know that I would prefer to support a business that demonstrates a professional attitude by maintaining a positive image.

    It’s also interesting to note that this isn’t just an ‘American’ issue. I noticed a story about Internet ‘Trolls’, their hateful comments, and the search to track them down in Sweden.

    ‘Troll Hunter’ exposes Sweden’s anonymous Internet haters

    Hopefully one day these ‘trolls’ will learn to actually be the upstanding, respectful citizens they believe that they already are – but are too shy to attach their real name to their comments.

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