Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The End to Sockpuppetry at the Daily News

An end to sockpuppetry at the Daily News? Yep. Managing Editor Steve McClure announced yesterday measures that the Daily News is going to take to cut down on the fraud and abuse regarding online comments. I generally applaud these measures, but still think they don't go far enough. As long as people hide behind anonymity to launch irresponsible, vicious attacks on people who have the courage of their convictions to take a public stance on an issue, I will continue to advocate for an end to anonymity, for I agree with technology writer Mark Minasi:
Instead, I suggest that administrators who run Web sites that host forums and reviews require that their contributors identify themselves. I'm not suggesting censoring any conversation—just cutting out the masked men. Sure, this approach has problems. For instance, what constitutes "identify" and what about sites that cover topics where anonymity is necessary; no question, those are issues that would need discussion. But removing the anonymous from most online forums and review sites would, I think, lead to more information and less flaming. Ad hominem attacks and vicious public spleen-venting accomplish nothing and drive many people away from our online community.

I don't think asking contributors for a real name and perhaps country of origin, no more than that, is asking too much, particularly if it makes Internet conversation the property of us all, rather than the property of the loudest, angriest, and most uncivil.
I will share my views with Daily News publisher Nathan Alford tomorrow when we have lunch and then plead the case to a the Daily News readers.

From yesterday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
COMMENTARY: Screen names and sock puppets collide with online changes

I always thought a sock puppet was just that - an old tube sock on your hand given voice and personality to entertain someone younger than age 8.

Ah, but the Internet has opened a new avenue of opportunity for socks and the puppets they became.

"Sock puppetry" apparently refers to those people who comment online and then respond to their own comment under another name.

I discovered that about a month ago after a meeting with our new group of Town Criers. They had asked about participating in the debate that can occur under their columns in the comment section at DNews.com. Our suggestion was that those can be great conversations, particularly if they use their own name.

Given that our Web site allows for people to make comments without their real name, I also encouraged them not to go in under multiple names to comment on their own work.

One of the Criers shot me an e-mail a few days later to tell me they'd tracked down the phrase for that at wordspy.com.

That's where I discovered sock puppets had evolved.

With changes coming to the comments section of our Web site, they'll likely change again.

One of the changes that will become obvious to those who participate in the comment section is the requirement that online users select a single screen name. Once it's picked, our system (which records comments by username) will attach that screen name that person's postings in the comment section.

Our hope is that it will resolve one of the problems we've noticed since we launched the comment section in March - namely, people participating in the comments forum under multiple names and personalities.

The unmoderated nature of the comment section has led to some wide-open discussions - both online and in our newsroom.

We expect some of the coming changes will allow the debate to continue but provide a greater degree of accountability and give online readers more options to improve the tone.

Another significant addition will be a reader-moderating tool that gives folks on DNews.com the chance to vote up or vote down specific comments. There will be a "thumbs up" and a "thumbs down" icon attached to each comment.

If the cumulative total of "thumbs down" hits six, the comment will minimize and disappear from the main thread of comments. Readers can still go find the comment and, if they decide to, give it a "thumbs up" to vote it back into the discussion thread.

Each user will be able to vote once on each comment.

Participants also will be able to comment on specific comments of another person. That allows users to address the author of a comment while maintaining the general thread of comments on a news article or opinion piece.

The plan is for these changes to take place in the coming week.

Once everything is in place, our hope is that it will allow for a constructive exchange of opinions from the wide variety of people who participate in that forum.

1 comment:

Barenjager said...

I like the screen name idea but the voting doesn't make sense. It allows for the most vocal and organized to shout down an idea they don't like.