Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 27th 2013 Contents B6
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Friday, December 27, 2013
Mix blatant bigotry with poor
spelling. Add a dash of ALL CAPS.
Top it off with a violent threat. And
there you have it: A recipe for the
worst of online comments.
Blame anonymity, blame politicians,
blame human nature. But a growing
number of websites are reining in online
commentary. Companies including
Google and The Huffington Post are
trying everything from deploying mod-
erators to forcing people to use their
real names. Some sites, such as Popular
Science, are banning comments alto-
What Web sites don t want is the
kind of nastiness that appeared under
a recent CNN.com article about the
Affordable Care Act.
"If it were up to me, you progressive
libs destroying this country would be
hanging from the gallows for treason.
People are awakening though. If I were
you, I d be very afraid," wrote someone
using the name "JBlaze."
YouTube, which is owned by Google,
has long been home to some of the
Internet s most juvenile and grammat-
ically incorrect comments. The video
site caused a stir last month when it
began requiring people to log into
Google Plus to write a comment.
Besides herding users to Google s unified
network, the company says the move
is designed to raise the level of dis-
A Cheerios cereal commercial fea-
turing an interracial family met with
such a barrage of racist responses on
YouTube in May that General Mills
shut down comments on it altogeth-
"Starting this week, when you re
watching a video on YouTube, you ll
see comments sorted by people you
care about first," wrote YouTube prod-
uct manager Nundu Janakiram and
principal engineer Yonatan Zunger in
a blog post announcing the changes.
Anonymity has always been a major
appeal of online life. Two decades ago,
The New Yorker magazine ran a cartoon
with a dog sitting in front of a com-
puter, one paw on the keyboard. The
caption read: "On the Internet, nobody
knows you re a dog."
At its best, anonymity allows people
to speak freely without repercussions.
It allows whistle blowers and protesters
to express unpopular opinions. At its
worst, it allows people to spout off
without repercussions. It gives trolls
and bullies license to pick arguments,
threaten and abuse.
But anonymity has been eroding. On
the Internet, many people may know
not only your name, but also your latest
musings, the songs you ve listened to,
your job history and who your friends
"It s not so much that our offline
lives are going online, it s that our offline
and online lives are more integrated,"
says Mark Lashley, a professor of com-
munications at La Salle University.
Facebook, which requires people to use
their real names, played a big part in
the seismic shift.
"As more people go online and we
put more of our lives online, we should
be held accountable for things we say,"
Nearly three-quarters of teens and
young adults think people are more
likely to use discriminatory language
online or in text messages than in face-
to-face conversations, according to a
recent poll from The Associated Press-
NORC Center for Public Affairs
Research and MTV. The poll didn t dis-
tinguish between anonymous com-
ments and those with real identities
The Huffington Post is clamping
down on vicious comments. In addition
to employing 40 human moderators
who sift through readers posts for
racism, homophobia, hate speech and
the like, the AOL-owned news site is
chipping away at anonymous com-
menting. Previously, anyone could
respond to an article posted on the site
by creating an account, without tying
it to an email address. This year, HuffPo
began requiring people to verify their
identity by connecting their accounts
to an e-mail address.
"We are reaching a place where the
Internet is growing up," says Jimmy
Soni, managing editor of HuffPo.
"These changes represent a maturing
The lack of total anonymity, while
not a failsafe method, offers people a
"gut check moment," Soni says.
Newspapers are also turning toward
regulated comments. Of the largest 137
US newspapers---those with daily cir-
culation above 50,000---nearly 49 per
cent ban anonymous commenting,
according to Arthur Santana, assistant
communications professor at the Uni-
versity of Houston. Nearly 42 per cent
allow anonymity, while nine per cent
do not have comments at all.
In some cases, sites have gone further.
Popular Science, the 141-year-old sci-
ence and technology magazine, stopped
allowing comments of any kind on its
news articles in September.
While highlighting responses to arti-
cles about climate change and abortion,
Popular Science online editor Suzanne
LaBarre announced the change and
explained in a blog post that comments
can be "bad for science."
Because "comments sections tend
to be a grotesque reflection of the media
culture surrounding them, the cynical
work of undermining bedrock scientific
doctrine is now being done beneath
our own stories," wrote LaBarre. (AP)
Web sites fight
and the Huffington
Post are trying
forcing people to
use their real
names in order to
discourse on online
It's not so much that our offline
lives are going online, it's that
our offline and online lives are
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