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ELAY—This little item in Popular Science filtered through my social media scene this week: “Why We’re Shutting Off Our Comments.”
PopSci says it has a spambot problem, for one. Nearly one-third of the comments posted on a story entitled “President Obama Announces a Climate Change Acton Plan,” for example, have nothing to do with the story, but instead promote malware traps:

“… I cannot believe that a person can profit $5,459 in 1 month on the computer. did you see this site…”

Here at TV Technology, we try to filter out links of any type, but they do slip through. One brief news item involving in-car DTV receivers virtually was swamped by comments with embedded links to dealerships.


Then there are the overly effusive comments about what a great site it is and what wonderful stuff we post and how amazingly gifted we are. Right. There’s also the occasional but thankfully rare personal attack, though nothing like the vitriol unleashed at PopSci on a story about a women’s health issue, or this dude, who tackled a member of a boy band in a charity soccer event and received death threats from their deranged fans.

PopSci said comments were diminishing its ability to report on science, as well as detracting from “intellectual debate.” Research by University of Wisconsin-Madison Prof. Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele was cited:

“Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant's interpretation of the news story itself.”

There’s a simple solution to “uncivil” comment that was once employed by every newspaper in the land, and one still used by government agencies collecting feedback on proposals: Name and address.

The Internet has become a virtual playground for personal demons, or demonic persons, otherwise referred to as “trolls.” The single characteristic attack comments generally share is anonymity. I learned long ago after being stalked online—and eventually, in my neighborhood—that cowardice is emboldened by anonymity. I have not posted an anonymous comment in years. If I feel the need to criticize or disparage, the least I can do is show my face or my name. It’s a guaranteed civility check.

I’ve also signed a petition to get Linkedin to add a feature allowing users to opt out of being viewed anonymously. I and several of my connections feel it’s only fair since the platform provides the option of viewing others’ profiles anonymously. Since it’s purported to be a professional network, one wonders why. Linkedin is also in some hot water for generating invitations to people blind copied on users’ emails when they agree to allow the site to search for possible connections. That’s obviously a different matter entirely, almost the counterpoint to abuse by anonymity. It’s abuse of one’s identity of not covert theft.

A little more transparency would go a long way to correct both.