Creative analysis, Websites

Is there any way to not feed the trolls?

So there’s this problem with IGN. A lot of the comments lately have been terrible.

Horrifying is probably more like it.

Steve Butts, IGN’s Editor-in-Chief

Earlier this week, my attention was drawn to the fact that IGN is trying to really crack down on negative comments posted to the site that don’t add anything to the discussion at hand. Steve Butts has called time on “trash-talking” or at least he hopes he has. The post’s attached comments however show that the most vocal posters on the site don’t want to call it time on flaming, bashing, trolling, etc.

IGN’s section on what you can and can’t do in the comments is quite in-depth.

Looking at the system they currently use for comments shows that it’s not a site specific system, but Disqus. More about that later.

Lauren Wainwright was the one who drew my attention to the new rules and I started a conversation with her on Twitter about the move by IGN. I started out with the oft marched line of, “don’t look at the comments,” but Lauren raised some interesting points about wanting to be able to see genuine comments without having to sift through crap:

Dealing with crap comments

We ended up with several people joining us in for this small debate on what to do about comments, most of the Tweets can be viewed here. The general theme of volume arose, after all – IGN is a really big site, having moderators constantly looking out for comments that break the site’s guidelines is a huge amount of effort, especially when they already have an established commenting problem.

Jamie Donnelly suggested that rude commenters forfeit the right to comment on the site, but this would still lead to a lot of moderation hours being involved (and things like IP banning are not realistic in this kind of situation with a community that is likely to know ways around it). I’d suggested an upvote system akin to Reddit, but Lauren pointed out how that rarely works on places like YouTube comments, because groups would come together and mass upvote the bad comments and whatnot. It was seeming like democratic systems run by humans are just no good at policing comments on sites where there’s a large amount of anti-social engagement going on.

Then Lauren said that there needs to be an automated system that deals with this kind of issue. To which I replied that sentiment analysis isn’t advanced enough yet to deal with this kind of thing at the moment.

disqus front page v1

But could sentiment analysis be on the way?

Could it? At least for online comments? I mentioned earlier that IGN uses Disqus for its site comments. What if such a comments system were to bring in sentiment analysis? Annoyingly, it seems that a lot of research into software and general algorithms that involve sentiment analysis is generally focused on the benefits for marketing and PR. No one appears to be focusing on the community benefits it could bring.

I’m not proposing that you completely remove humans out of the picture – ideally sentiment analysis of comments would lead to the majority of ones that break guidelines like IGNs being put into an area for the site’s mods to moderate, without giving attention to them unless they’re found to be genuine and are approved or are diverted to some kind of pile of shame (unless they break the law in some way, in which case they will never be publicly displayed). Surely this is something that services like Disqus could look in to developing?

The freedom of speech issue

As found in response to IGN’s latest move on comments, there are those that feel that the degree of moderation that IGN is now using is an attack on their right to freedom of speech:

I’m sure you’ve all heard it, but apparently some of us don’t think we should have to live by it. The simple credence of “If you can’t stand the heat, then stay out of the kitchen” seems to be completely ignored here. This, my friends, is just another bash against free speech. It’s happening slowly, and in little doses here and there, but its adding up to a big problem. If it makes you feel better about yourself to come online and hate me for what I say, or even who I am, go right ahead. It’s your right to do so. I’m a big boy…and i’m certainly not going to cry myself to sleep because of what some faceless name in a crowd posted on a gaming website. It is YOUR RIGHT to voice your opinion, and MY RIGHT to endorse it or ignore it. Thanks, but no thanks IGN, I don’t need a chaperon…So please, I implore all of you, be happy for what i’m saying, or hate me for it, but voice your damn opinion, and do not be afraid to do so. EVER.

And this is where having a way of banishing offensive comments to the internet equivalent of a de Sitter horizon would a) still allow legal, but disgusting comments to exist and b) ensure people can avoid what is truly nasty. And effective sentiment analysis would just be a way of speeding it all up.

However…

This is all just dealing with a symptom of a much larger problem affecting the mindsets of those who post abusive comments in the first place.

Comic featured: xkcd: Troll Slayer

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