Forum killed by ill-mannered, anonymous trolls; a suggestion for marginalizing them

Off the bike again…

There’s no telling what some people will say or do when they think no one’s watching or when they can’t be held accountable. Vandals smash car windows. Bigots paint racist graffiti on a wall or burn a cross in someone’s yard. Or worse.

The consequences for the victims generally are less immediate and apparent, but online vandals can cause damage that is no less real and costly.

If you’ve spent any time at all reading public comments on news sites and blogs, or participated in some of the live blogs during the November elections, you’ve seen it: Name-calling, personal attacks, angry words that contribute nothing to the discourse.

The offenders are almost always anonymous, and it seems they have killed an online forum at the Mankato Free Press. Click here for the story.

The publisher, Jim Santori, is reported to be looking for an application that will somehow authenticate registrations and allow the blocking of rule-breakers. Meanwhile, the “virtual coffee shop” has been shut down.

Many people comment anonymously to avoid personal attacks or retribution for what they say online. I get that, even though I think it sad. They shouldn’t have to fear the scumbags who hide behind phony IDs and foul what might otherwise be intelligent, lively, useful conversations.

The Free Press and others have a choice to make: Put up with the trolls who drive other people away or require some accountability and risk losing traffic anyway.

Or maybe they can find another way to elevate the discourse: Display the contributions of those with legitimate IDs in the site’s standard font size, and relegate the vandal class to 6 pt. or smaller.

They’d be easier to ignore that way.

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