Even as journalists all over the world dread the arrival of robots and algorithms capable of taking over their jobs, reviewing the comments section on their articles is a task that most writers would gladly outsource, considering the toxicity and "trolling" that’s often seen. Derived from a term that originally referred to a method of fishing, internet “trolls” are today one of the key reasons we see comments section escalating into hate rants. While a few online publishers such as The Verge, Recode, and Reuters decided to tackle this by doing away with the comments space, NRKbeta, the tech arm of Norwegian broadcaster NRK counts such interactive platforms as vital to reader engagement, and hence has came up with a novel way to fight trolls. As per a NiemanLab report, NRKbeta has introduced a feature (on some of its stories), by which potential commenters are required to answer three questions about the article before they’re allowed to post a comment. Developed by NRKbeta developer Henrik Lied in the form of a WordPress plug-in with questions randomized for each user, the quiz comprises of fairly basic, multiple-choice questions, and is said to be in early stages of experimentation.
Speaking to NiemanLab, NRKbeta journalist Ståle Grut says, “We thought we should do our part to try and make sure that people are on the same page before they comment. If everyone can agree that this is what the article says, then they have a much better basis for commenting on it.” In the same chat, editor Marius Arnesen says that spending the few extra seconds to understand the story, and think about what they are posting does make the difference. “If you spend 15 seconds on it, those are maybe 15 seconds that take the edge off the rant mode when people are commenting,” he says. The Norwegian media organization decided to structure the tool as a quiz to ensure that commenters were all on “common ground” getting into the discussion, and to keep the interactions all on topic, thereby attempting to keep away the personal attacks and rants.
With the current information overload, media companies globally continue to think of ways to stay clear of abuse and maintain civility in user engagements. Just last month, Mashable reported tech giant Google achieving a breakthrough in this area with the release of a tool Perspective API, which uses machine learning to assess the impact a comment might have on a conversation, and assigns score based on how "toxic" the posts are. Commenters and moderators can then use this score for real-time feedback on the nature of interactions. Similarly, there’s also the Coral Project, a joint initiative by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Mozilla Foundation, and Knight Foundation, that is working on creating open-source tools with the aim of using technology to improve interactions online, and ensuring that voicing one's opinion is not an unpleasant experience.