This company may have solved the problem of toxic comments on your blog

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

There’s one thing that a professional journalist, a blogger, a freelance writer, an independent contributor or a business owner whose company has a blog shares in common: toxic comments.

You know who these “commenters” are. They’re the jerks who leave nasty remarks about something you wrote. They get into online fights with others. They call each other names. They call each other’s mothers names. Many of them do so without even reading most of what you wrote too.

Every large publisher, including this one, has struggled with giving their readers a forum for having a civil discussion online without being trolled and abused by the haters. Web sites have tried paid and unpaid moderators, special sign-ins, and time limits. Publishers are trying out tools like machine learning and other open source tools to help weed out the bad comments from their communities. Businesses have this problem too. My business frequently gets toxic comments on the blogs we write. How can we build communities when some readers can’t show civility?

Fortunately, one company may have come up with the solution. NRKbeta, the technology arm of Norwegian public broadcaster NRK had decided to take a different approach to its commenters: it’s quizzing them.

I get it. How many times do people give uninformed (and sometimes abusive) comments after only reading the first paragraph of a blog? NRKBeta decided to quiz their visitors because, according to this report on Niemanlab.org, it wants to make sure that its readers are, at the least, reading the story before discussing it. Just a few questions about some of the basic facts, please. Then we’d like to hear your opinion.

“We’re trying to establish a common ground for the debate,” NRKbeta editor Marius Arnesen said in the Niemanlab report. “If you’re going to debate something, it’s important to know what’s in the article and what’s not in the article. [Otherwise], people just rant.”

It’s an in-house tool built with a WordPress plugin and not available for sale. It’s also still early days and the quizzes have only appeared on a handful of articles.

But if the concept proves right, then it could be a help to business owners who want to expand their customer communities without subjecting them to the abuse commonly found in online discussions. Also, it could be an opportunity for a few start-ups to evolve the idea into something commercial.

Comments, anyone?

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