3 reasons why we must reduce online comment aggressiveness
There are a number of arguments on account of which it is worth searching for solutions to reduce the volume of uncivilized comments on the Internet.
1. First of all, it is unlikely that those who profit from the veil of anonymity offered by the Internet would express themselves just as uncivilized in a face-to-face conversation with those whom they attack online.
2. Next, the comments sections found beneath articles are worth keeping alive rather than eliminated all together as some media organizations have decided to do. There are more arguments to support the benefits of keeping them up:
- readers feel the need to contribute their own opinions on the Internet, which is no longer the medium of an unidirectional form of communication, but of a dialogue. It is true, however, that at times publishers choose to put out articles with the precise purpose of creating an inflammatory atmosphere in order to increase the website’s traffic.
- comments may bring journalists important additional information, either correcting their texts, or new angles of the story at hand that were not developed in the original article, new ideas for stories to pursue based on user comments.
- moreover, the interaction between authors and commentators may lead to the decrease of aggressive tones, as well as the nurturing of a community atmosphere. A study by Engaging News Project shows that when authors get involved in answering readers’ comments, uncivilized language decreases by 15%.
- the same recent study shows how comments may increase interaction with the readers, the time spent on the site and tend to create loyalty.
- another project conducted in the USA, Coral Project tries to find the best ways to transform comments into an area of interaction between readers and publishers/journalists, an area where this relationship can be defined.
3. An additional argument exists, this time in the shape of a legal practice in the process of being established, that requires a greater scrutiny over the commentary section of articles.
In Estonia, a news website (Delfi AS) was sued and found responsible for its injurious and slandering online comment content towards a company. It is not only Estonian courts that ruled against the particular site, but also the ECHR, mentioning that: “the responsibility of a large news portal to take efficient measures to limit dissemination of hate speech and speech that incites to violence cannot be equated with “private censorship”.
On the other hand, Article 19, an international organization fighting for free speech and free flow of information, believes that this decision, through which Delfi AS is found directly responsible for the content of its comments, is a violation of the right to free speech online and ignores EU regulation in the field.
Moreover, because of this controversial decision, some sites have started shutting down their comment sections. This is the case of the Bulgarian website e-vestnik that has an announcement on its page that references the ECHR decision and the fact that it cannot afford to take preventive action. The owner himself is now in a similar trial to that of Delfi.
These arguments, in fact, illustrate the growing attention that violent online commentary draws from publishers, journalists, users and, more recently, even the judiciary.
Less Hate, More Speech – Youngsters Get Involved!
The project is run by Median Research Centre (MRC) in partnership with Educ Association and targets young people between 12 and 17 years old, in order to help them better identify and react to online and offline hate speech.
More, on the project’s website.