August 21, 2013 Last Updated 3:05 pm

The Huffington Post to end anonymous commenting, but battle against trolls will go on

The website Gigaom is reporting that Arianna Huffington said this morning that The Huffington Post will end anonymous commenting come September. The move is being considered to fight the seemingly endless trolling that occurs today on major websites.

Mathew Ingram, who writes for the website, thinks its a bad move and says there is evidence to support his position, but somehow then failed to actual include any in his column. Noi matter, I think is right… but also wrong.

Anonymous commenting does have real value, especially one industry websites where those in the know don’t want to disclose their name for fear of retaliation. It has the same value on some news sites for the same reason.

But what do you do to combat trolls who are paid to push an agenda, or are out to provoke an argument, or are simply trying to ruin a website>

ESPN made the decision to require commenters to be log in with their Facebook accounts if they wanted to comment on their boards. The move instantly meant that ESPN lost over 90 percent of the comments on its baseball and other boards. It was a disaster.

But the move was deemed necessary because there were trolls who were simply trying to ruin the boards by posting the same inane or offensive post over and over again, often hundreds of times on the same board as quickly as possible. Their goal was to ruin the board discussions before finally, maybe, being banned. Then they popped up again under another fake account name.

ESPN’s answer has not worked out, at least not yet. It took a long time to get to the point where the boards were a mess, so maybe sticking with a Facebook scheme, if retained, might eventually prove a good solution.

The Huffington Post, though, seems to be overreacting. The site often gets over a thousand comments on a major story, and of those only a few could be considered to be from trolls – at least in comparison to the number of legitimate comments. By removing the ability to comment anonymously the site risks depressing traffic. But Arianna Huffington apparently feels it will be worth it.

The alternative is more moderating. But this can be an expensive solution, and is often controversial.

But The Guardian, which admittedly does not get quite the level of comments as the HuffPost, is committed to using moderating as its tool of choice.

The NYY relies on moderating, as well. But whereas the Guardian moderates after a comment has been posted, the Times moderates upfront. The result is that the process is invisible to the reader who goes through the comments hours after the story has appeared. But the moderating policy prevents comments from appearing in real time and hence prevents any real dialogue from occurring. Worse, the NYT is quick to close comments on stories so that readers who are not quick to react and want to comment often are shut out.

In short, there is no good solution. But just keeping things as they are is a very bad idea, too. The Washington Post, for instance, is becoming a wasteland of trolling comments. One often wonder if the commenters are paid, stupid, or just trying to drive away Post readers. It’s not working and needs changing, probably far more than the HuffPost does.

Ultimately websites need to experiment to see what works for them. SB Nation, the collection of sports blogs owned by Vox Media forces readers who want to comment to register, then wait 24 hours to comment. It is annoying to readers who want to comment on something they have just read. But it also seems to prevent a lot of trolling, while still building a community. It seems to work for them, even if it might not work for another site.

Comments are closed.