Monday, October 21, 2013

Popular Science Shuts Down Comments Threads to Combat Internet Trolling

Alexander Reed Kelly's recent report at Truthdig about why Popular Science has shut down its comments threads catches my eye. We've discussed this issue here in the past (e.g., here, here, here, here, and here). 

Kelley writes:

Editors of the Popular Science website last month announced they would no longer accept readers’ comments under new articles. Why? Because studies suggest Internet "trolls" don’t just spoil the chance for intellectual debate, they create doubt where there should be none.

What appears to be open "discussion" in many blog threads is, as Suzanne LaBarre points out for Popular Science (second link above), actually the opposite: it's the subversion of rational, measured discussion of issues by trolls who deliberately want to seed toxic memes creating doubt in order to obstruct reason and dialogue. In the area of science, this approach can have serious consequences, as the editors of Popular Science point out. It can leave even educated readers with the impression that well-established facts are now open for discussion because a group of trolls maintain that this is the case.

And that can, in turn, can have political consequences when trolls working to deconstruct reasonable and measured conversation at scientific blog sites seed doubts about well-conducted studies that demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that climate change is actually happening. It's hard to sustain a viable democratic society when increasing numbers of voters are convinced that the factual and the empirical--the true--no longer has any pertinence . . . 

Because they've been told by uninformed right-wing talking heads with an agenda of deconstructing everything antithetical to their fantasy world that this is the case.

The graphic is an illustration of Jean-no available for use through Wikimedia Commons.

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