Those nasty web comments
This interesting read in Editor and Publisher - "New Tools in Policing Web Comments" - describes a problem familiar to any journalist whose work appears on a media site. It's based on the decision by Tennessee's Knoxville News Sentinel to take action after inflammatory comments - including from white supremecist groups - forced defence attorneys in a murder case to go to court to request the paper stop allowing comments. They were, argued the defence, tainting the jury pool. The judge ruled against the action, but it was a wakeup call to management (and staff) at the News Sentinel to take action to better monitor its website.
One of the points of the piece is that comments are what really drive people to websites, with one expert arguing the real customers are people making mean comments. I don't agree that mean comments are in the majority, but I do know monitoring comments at www.thestar.com is a huge task. Hardworking Star moderators try to ensure inflammatory comments don't appear in the first place but, when they slip through, they rely on the "alert a moderator" tool for readers to flag them. (That's one of the solutions undertaken by News Sentinel editors.) The Star takes other measures, such as not allowing comments on cases before the courts or on particularly sensitive issues - a practice that annoys some readers, as every journalist who's written a story with barred comments knows. Our own email boxes fill up fast.
One easy answer would be to have commentors use their real names - as do writers to the letters pages of print media. Since that's not going to happen, other methods are outlined in the News Sentinel piece. We also come to know, and usually appreciate, regular contributors through their monikers. Moreover, it can fun on political stories (if there's time) to try and figure out which commenters are professionals, ensconced in political war rooms.