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Dealing with Trolls

Updated: Jan 3, 2020

Written by: Larry Goodfellow

Trolls are a constant nuisance to message boards and public forums. They disrupt and infuriate communication and learning. While many news organizations are giving in to their threat by doing away with this form of communication, one Norwegian tech site is trying a new way to combat them.

Testing Trolls 

The other day I was driving to work and listening to the radio when the announcer mentioned how a Norwegian tech site had employed a new method to combat trolls and toxic remarks left in the comments section. I was immediately intrigued. The method they came up with was to make readers take a simple multiple choice test showing that they had read the article before being able to comment. This is a new approach to deal with the often horrific remarks left by individuals throughout the internet. When companies contact us to purchase market research online community software for their company, a major concern is regarding trolls and discussion boards. Many news sites have given up on regulating comments sections and have done away with them altogether.

When I got to work I researched further and read a great article about the subject written by Már Másson Maack entitled Norwegian site fights troll rants by making them pass a quiz before commenting. Norway’s public broadcasting company (NRK) tech branch NRKbeta was the one who first came up with this concept of testing individuals before allowing them to comment on a story. The writers at the publication were perplexed with how to keep the comments section open and at the same time foster constructive discussions. They found most toxic comments were from individuals who didn’t understand the story that they were commenting on, indicating that those leaving the negative comments most likely had not read the article that they were commenting on. Ståle Grut, a journalist at NRKbeta commented on the problem when he said, they “often see rants from people who haven’t read the articles properly. Grut and his fellow writers at NKRbeta wanted to try to solve the problem of low-quality comments to show that there is hope for comment sections on news websites.” By requiring individuals to take a 15 second test before commenting, not only required a basic understanding of the article, but also gave commenters time to cool down if they happened to be upset about what they just read.

It Works for Tech, but…

Már Másson Maack writes that unlike other publications the general tone in the comments section of NRKbeta were rather positive and civil, leading him to wonder if there was a need for improvement. Grut commented that since most of the writing has centred around technology which is a rather neutral field and does not create a lot of polarizing views it had kept the comments section more positive than other sites. However, Grut stated that “as technology over time plays a much greater role in society and politics, it is only natural for us to write about those aspects as well. Normally our tribe of readers are bright, smart and polite people – but when an article reaches the front page of the NRK, it attracts a much wider audience.” While the test system is rather new there isn’t a lot of data to report on yet. It will be interesting to see how the test is able to reduce negative and un-constructive comments which can have an impact on news agencies and comments sections across the internet.

The worry about constructive comments sections isn’t reserved for news agencies only. Many clients who contact us know the power that discussion threads can have for gaining customer insight and providing strong qualitative research. We have heard time and again from members of our online communities as well as the companies that use our online community software that the discussions are more positive and helpful than those found elsewhere on the internet. Over the years we have found that there are key factors that can increase the likelihood of positive comments. The first is that, all our members complete a profile survey which shows their personal address and information making them less anonymous than other discussion threads. Also, by members joining voluntarily around a brand or topic, shows that they have an invested interest in the community and their purpose is to see change and be heard.

If you would like to find out more about how our online community software can help your company please feel free to contact us.

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